A powerful 7.6 magnitude earthquake was registered off the east coast of New Caledonia in the South Pacific on Wednesday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the undersea quake was a shallow 10 km (6 miles) deep. The epicenter of the quake was some 300 kilometers east of the capital of New Caledonia, Noumea, but such was the force of the shock that experts said small tsunami waves might be detectable as far away as Antarctica and Russia. The center issued a warning for those nearer the tremor.
"Hazardous tsunami waves from this earthquake are possible within 1,000 km (600 miles) of the epicenter along the coasts of Vanuatu and New Caledonia," the PTWC said.
There were no immediate reports of damage from the earthquake, but the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said that waves had been "observed" and could reach up to three meters high.
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Residents of New Caledonia, which lies north of New Zealand, received an urgent text message directing them to go to refuges immediately.
"We activated the alert sirens... along the east coast and all the Loyalty Islands," Eric Backes, director of the islands' civil defense authority, told local radio.
"People should move away from the coastline and to higher ground or go to the evacuation points set up in each commune."
Basile Citre, a municipal official on Mare, one of the Loyalty Islands, said the situation there was so far under control.
"I was in a meeting at the town hall and we felt a small tremor then a bigger one," he told AFP.
"The building shook, but there was no damage. When the sirens sounded, the population headed for higher ground for safety. For now, nothing serious has happened."
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Authorities in New Zealand also issued a tsunami warning after the quake hit.
New Caledonia is a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, to the east of Australia. The territory has been a part of France since 1853. Last month, its residents voted to remain French in an independence referendum.
jcg/rt (Reuters, AFP)
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