Tsunami warning for three Pacific islands after quake

A tsunami warning was issued for New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu Wednesday after a strong earthquake in the Pacific Ocean, although seismologists said there were no immediate reports of damage.

After the 7.1 magnitude quake struck off the eastern coast of New Caledonia, "waves reaching 0.3 to 1 metre above the tide level are possible", the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

It urged anyone near the coast to "stay alert" and follow instructions from local authorities.

Smaller waves were forecast for other Pacific nations including the Marshall islands, Samoa and New Zealand, although New Zealand was quick to distance the country from any threat.

"We want to confirm that there is no tsunami threat to New Zealand from this earthquake," said the ministry of civil defence and emergency management.

Jonathan Hanson, duty seismologist at New Zealand's GNS Science, also downplayed any major threat to Pacific nations, saying the epicentre was some distance from inhabited islands and the tsunami wave warnings were modest.

"The tsunami wave sizes we've seen reported are 16-17 centimetres (6.3-6.7 inches) at two New Caledonia stations. At those sizes we wouldn't expect any damage," he told AFP.

The tremor hit at a depth of 27 kilometres (17 miles) in the southern Pacific Ocean, some 231 kilometres from the nearest town Tadine in the lightly-populated Loyalty Islands, the US Geological Survey said.

Geoscience Australia said shaking would have been felt throughout New Caledonia, but it put the damage radius at 103 kilometres - well away from land.

New Caledonia, a French overseas territory, Fiji and Vanuatu are located within the "Ring of Fire", a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific that is subject to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

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