“About as big as it gets”: The quake in the South Pacific triggered tsunami warnings

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One of the strongest South Pacific earthquakes in modern history set off tsunami warnings over the ocean and forced thousands of people in New Zealand to evacuate coastal areas on Friday. Small tsunami waves were seen, but hours later, little damage was seen.

The 8.1 magnitude quake in the Kermadec Islands region, about 620 miles from New Zealand, was the largest in a series of tremors lasting several hours, including two previous tremors measuring 7.4 and 7 , 3.

The tsunami threat created traffic jams and mayhem in New Zealand as people moved to a higher level.

Residents videotaped small waves in places, including in Tokomaru Bay near Gisborne. In the afternoon, the National Emergency Management Agency said the threat was over and people could return to their homes, although they should continue to avoid beaches.

People watch for signs of a tsunami from a hill above Papamoa Beach, New Zealand, while a tsunami warning is issued on March 5, 2021.

George Novak / AP


One of the previous quakes came much closer to New Zealand and woke many people when they felt a long, rumbling tremor. “I hope everyone is fine out there,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Facebook during the night.

After the biggest quake, New Zealand civil protection authorities urged people in some coastal areas to go to a higher level immediately. They said a damaging tsunami was possible and waves could reach up to 10 feet.

Emergency Minister Kiri Allan told reporters that people followed the advice.

“They felt the long or strong earthquakes and knew that they had to pack their bags and go to the highlands,” she said. “I can only thank and acknowledge the tireless efforts of the men and women up and down the coast who knew how to act, when to act and what to do.”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned the quake could cause tsunami waves up to 10 feet in Vanuatu and up to 3 feet in Fiji, French Polynesia, and as far as Mexico and Peru.

One foot waves have been measured with ocean gauges in Vanuatu, New Zealand and on islands off Australia.

The US Geological Survey said the strongest quake was centered near the remote Kermadec Islands at a depth of 12 miles.

The agency said in a report that the quake occurred at the junction of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates, dwarfing the largest 8.0 magnitude quake previously recorded in the region in 1976. The interaction between the plates creates one of the most seismically active regions in the world, and it has registered 215 quakes there above magnitude 6.0 in the last century.

Jennifer Eccles, an earthquake expert at the University of Auckland, said the quake was on the high end of the scale for those that only affect the Earth’s ocean crust.

“That’s about as big as it gets,” she said.

She said that most quakes greater than magnitude 8.0 tend to occur when a section of a more rugged continental crust is affected.

The US Geological Survey said the 7.4 magnitude quake was likely a “foreshock” that contributed to the larger quake, but that the first quake, which moved closer to New Zealand, was too distant in time and space to be direct to have contributed.

The first quake was at a depth of 13 miles under the ocean, about 108 miles northeast of the city of Gisborne. It was widespread in New Zealand, and residents of the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch reported having been roused.

In 2011, the city of Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 magnitude quake that killed 185 people and destroyed much of the city center.



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