Major earthquake hits Tonga region

The South Pacific island of Tonga was hit by a major 7.9-magnitude earthquake according to officials. No casualties have been reported. A tsunami alert had been issued for the surrounding region before being cancelled.


AFP - A major 7.9-magnitude earthquake shook the South Pacific nation of Tonga Friday and prompted a tsunami warning in the region, officials said.

The quake, which hit at 6.17 am (1817 GMT), was centred 210 kilometres (130 miles) south-southeast of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said.

An aftershock measuring 5.2 in magnitude was also recorded by the USGS in the same region just over two hours after the initial quake.

A resident of Nuku'alofa said there was no sign of major damage or of a tsunami after the quake, which had struck at a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles).

The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami warning for Tonga, Niue, Kermadec Islands, American Samoa and Fiji, but lifted it again nearly two hours after the quake struck.

The centre said in an updated warning that a tsunami had been generated which may have been destructive along coastlines of the region near the earthquake epicentre.

In Fiji, the authorities warned people in coastal areas to move to higher ground and schools along the coast were closed. Many businesses and government offices stayed closed until after the warning was lifted.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Civil Defence had also issued a tsunami advisory for all coastal regions soon after the earthquake.

But nearly two hours after the quake, the tsunami warning was lifted and there were no reports of any significant rise in sea levels.

The warning centre said after cancelling the tsunami alert that only a minor rise in sea level of around four centimetres (1.5 inches) was recorded by sea level gauges in the island nation of Niue.

Nuku'alofa resident Mary Fonua said there was no apparent significant damage after the quake, which lasted for about a minute.

"There was a lot of rattling and shaking. It went on for about 30 seconds and I went outside and the house was shaking for about another 30 seconds," she said. Electricity and phone services were not disrupted.

A number of earthquakes have been felt in Tonga recently and an undersea volcano has been erupting off the coast of the main island Tongatapu, although it was not considered to be a threat to people in the area.

The quake occurred near fault lines in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where continental plates in the earth's crust meet and earthquakes and volcanic activity are common.

In December 2004 an undersea earthquake off Sumatra, Indonesia, set off a tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people around the Indian Ocean.

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