Source AP ©

Series of earthquakes strike near the French islands of New Caledonia

About 15 quakes hit the region and some ranged in magnitude from 5.0 to 6.6, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quakes struck around midday local time and most were centered in a region about 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands, it said.

There were no reports of injuries or damage in the sparsely populated atolls nearest the epicenter, said Capt. Jean-Christian Baratto, an official with the French High Commissariat in New Caledonia.

He said residents of Maree Island, the closest to the epicenter, felt only "slight shaking."

Stuart Koyanagi, a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, said the quakes were too small to generate a Pacific-wide tsunami.

While the center warned that the largest of the quakes had the potential to generate a local tsunami, Baratto dismissed that possibility.

"We are watching carefully. There is no risk of a local tsunami," he said.

The French High Commissariat in New Caledonia convened an urgent meeting to discuss the quakes. Local police were warned to stay "vigilant," the commissariat said.

New Caledonia is a collection of small islands with a population of about 221,000 people located some 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) northeast of Australia. It lies along the Pacific Basin's so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines where quakes are frequent.

The quakes came as New Caledonia is testing a new tsunami warning system, Baratto said. The system includes text messages that would be sent to mobile phones in the case of a tsunami risk.

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