Strong undersea earthquakes caused panic in the South Pacific Thursday, sending islanders scrambling to higher ground a little more than a week after a tsunami killed at least 150 people in the region. The quakes only generated small waves, and there were no immediate reports of damage.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the first quake measured 7.8 in magnitude. It hit about 300 kilometers northwest of Vanuatu and was followed by at least two other strong tremors, Voice of America reports.
According to Reuters, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a tsunami warning for the entire southwest Pacific, which included island resorts and Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia, after the quakes struck beneath the seas between Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
Hawaii and the Philippines were placed on tsunami watch. The centre cancelled its warning after three tsunamis, measuring up to 10 cm, were recorded in Vanuatu.
But with memories fresh of a tsunami last week that killed some 150 people in American Samoa and Samoa, many islanders panicked when the quake hit and tsunami warnings were issued.
"People were frightened and some ran out of the building onto the street because it was so strong," Florence Cari, receptionist at Hotel Santo in Vanuatu, told Reuters by telephone.
The warning was triggered by a quake that struck off Vanuatu at 9:03 a.m. local time today, followed by a temblor measuring 7.7 about 15 minutes later, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Aftershocks measuring 7.3 and 6.6 were also recorded. Tsunami waves as high as 10 centimeters were seen in Vanuatu, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which canceled the regional alert about 2 1/2 hours after the initial earthquake.
"Everyone was running up the mountains," Agence France- Presse cited local journalist Tipi Autagavaia as saying from the Samoan island of Upolu. "You could see the panic and fear was still fresh from what happened" when a tsunami, triggered by a magnitude-8 quake, hit late last month.
That disaster killed at least 184 people, including 143 in Samoa, 32 in neighboring American Samoa and nine in Tonga, AFP reported.