Powerful earthquakes strike off Vanuatu, generating small tsunamis

August 21st, 2011 - 2:50 am ICT by BNO News  

PORT VILA (BNO NEWS) — Two powerful earthquakes struck off the island nation of Vanuatu on early Sunday morning, seismologists said, generating local tsunamis but causing no damage.

The first earthquake at 3.55 a.m. local time (1655 GMT Saturday), which had a magnitude of 7.1, was centered about 63 kilometers (39 miles) south-southwest of Port-Vila, the capital of Vanuatu on the island of Efate. It struck about 40.6 kilometers (25.2 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Nearly 1.5 hour later, at 5.19 a.m. local time (1819 GMT Saturday), a second earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 on the Richter scale struck about 40 kilometers (24 miles) south-southwest of Efate. It struck about 36 kilometers (22 miles) deep, making it a shallow earthquake, according to the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department.

The USGS, which measured the strength of the second earthquake at 7.0, estimated that between 41,000 and 46,000 people may have felt strong shaking on nearby islands as a result of both earthquakes. It said there is a low likelihood of serious damage and casualties.

As a result of the second earthquake, the Vanuatu Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for its central and southern islands and urged people to stay away from the coast, prompting scores of people to evacuate to higher ground.

About an hour after the second earthquake, the Vanuatu Tsunami Warning Center canceled the warnings. “Tsunami waves were evident from this event, but were nondestructive,” a bulletin from the agency said. “The all clear is given by the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office (NDMO).”

On the island of Efate, the agency said tsunami waves of up to 1.05 meter (3.4 feet) had been observed, causing no damage or casualties. There were also no immediate reports of damage or casualties from the earthquake itself.

Vanuatu is on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent and large earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions also occur frequently in the region.

Most recently, on March 11, an enormous 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northeastern Japan, which is also on the Pacific Ring of Fire. The earthquake and a resulting tsunami left more than 15,600 people killed and more than 5,000 others missing.

And before that, on October 25, a powerful 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck just off the Mentawai Islands off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. As a result, a wall of water killed at least 435 people on the islands and impacted more than 20 villages.

On December 26, 2004, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded struck off the west coast of Sumatra. The 9.1-magnitude earthquake unleashed a deadly tsunami, striking scores of countries. In all, at least 227,898 people were killed.

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