Powerful 7.6 quake near Vanuatu prompts tsunami warnings

December 25th, 2010 - 8:59 pm ICT by BNO News  

VANUATU ISLANDS (BNO NEWS) — Parts of the Pacific are under a tsunami warning on early Sunday morning after a major earthquake struck near the Vanuatu Islands, seismologists and tsunami experts said.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake at 12.16 a.m. local time (1316 GMT Saturday) was centered approximately 135 kilometers (85 miles) west of Isangel, a city on the Vanuatu island of Tanna. It struck about 24.4 kilometers (15.2 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

The USGS estimated that approximately 11,000 people may have felt strong shaking as a result of the powerful earthquake, which may result in light to moderate damage. Another 273,000 people may have felt light to moderate shaking.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately issued a tsunami warning for Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji after the earthquake, although it was not immediately known if a tsunami had been generated.

“It is not known that a tsunami was generated,” the agency said in its warning. “This warning is based only on the earthquake evaluation. An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines in the region near the epicenter within minutes to hours.”

The agency estimated that, if a tsunami was generated, the waves would likely have hit Vanuatu within minutes of the earthquake. Then, the tsunami may reach New Caledonia by 1359 GMT Sunday, while Fiji could see tsunami activity at around 1512 GMT Sunday.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also said that Hawaii could experience small, non-destructive sea level changes and strong or unusual currents lasting up to several hours. No tsunami watch or warning is in effect for Hawaii, however.

Other details were not immediately available.

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