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The undersea earthquake struck north of New Zeland today at a depth of about 6.2 miles (10km). Reports from the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre show a magnitude 7.7 event was recorded at 1.19pm GMT or 2.19am local time. The earthquake’s epicentre was located southeast of Loyalty Islands and some 328 miles (528km) east of Nouméa, New Caledonia, in the South Pacific.
The earthquake followed at least three other, smaller quakes in the space of an hour.
Tsunami warnings were immediately raised as waves reaching above tide level were expected to reach parts of New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu.
The New Zealand National Emergency Management Agency said strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges were expected at the shore.
Affected areas include the northern coastlines of the country.
Although the agency assured there was no need to evacuate, people have been urged to move out of the water, beaches and shore areas, as well as from harbours, rivers and estuaries.
The agency said the first tsunami activity was expected to hit the shores by 4.20am local time, adding at 3pm GMT today: “This may be later and the first tsunami activity may not be the most significant.”
However, at 6.26pm GMT, a notice issued by the US Tsunami Warning System said “the tsunami threat has now largely passed”.
Some fluctuations in the sea level up to 0.3m are still expected above and below the normal tide level in the next few hours.
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The alert said: “Government agencies responsible for any impacted coastal areas should monitor conditions at the coast to determine if and when it is safe to resume normal activities.
“Persons located near impacted coastal areas should stay alert for information and follow instructions from local authorities.
“Remain observant and exercise normal caution near the sea.”
The agency added this would be the last statement issued unless there were new developments.
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There is a small chance aftershocks will follow the main event, although according to Robert Weiss from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University these would be smaller tremors.
Mr Weiss studies how the environment responds to tsunamis triggered by earthquakes.
He said: “7.7 is a pretty strong earthquake. Gauge locations are coming in and there seems to be a small-medium tsunami, the elevations of which are not bad.
“Still the associated currents from waves can cause significant damages in ports, harbours, and marinas.
“There could always be aftershocks, but they are most likely smaller.”
The New Zealand quake struck shortly after a magnitude 6.2 earthquake hit the Indonesian Island of Sumatra.
The earthquake was recorded at a depth of about 6.2 miles (10km) and just 134 miles (217km) southwest Bengkulu.
New Zealand sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a hotbed of volcanism and seismicity that runs along the rim of the Pacific Ocean.
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