December 11, 2005

Local tsunami warning after undersea quake off PNG

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5
jolted an area off the north coast of Papua New Guinea in the
South Pacific on Monday, seismologists said, prompting a
warning of local tsunamis.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said there was
no risk of a Pacific-wide tsunami but warned the undersea quake
could generate localized destructive tsunamis.

"Earthquakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis
that can be destructive along coasts located within a hundred
kilometers of the earthquake epicenter," it said in a bulletin.

"Authorities in the region should be aware of this
possibility and take appropriate action."

There were no initial reports of damage in the area, but
PNG natural disaster officials were not immediately available.

In July 1998, two undersea quakes measuring 7.0 created
three tsunamis that killed at least 2,100 people near the town
of Aitape on Papua New Guinea's north coast.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said on its Web site that
the latest quake was located in the New Britain area of the
country, which lies north of Australia and east of Indonesia.

The survey, which subsequently revised its original
magnitude of 6.8, said it occurred at 00:20 a.m. on Monday
(1420 GMT Sunday).

Geophysicist Don Blakeman at the USGS National Earthquake
Information Center in Golden, Colorado, told Reuters by phone
the quake occurred "in the crust of the ocean, not on land."

Geoscience Australia said it had also recorded the quake,
about 250 km (155 miles) south of Rabaul on New Britain island,
but it had no indication whether it had caused a local tsunami.

New Britain, which has a population of about 20,000, lies
475 km (295 miles) northeast of the PNG capital, Port Moresby.

Several quakes higher than magnitude 6 have hit Papua New
Guinea in the past three months, one undersea in the same
region, but none has caused serious damage or casualties.

Seismically active, Papua New Guinea lies on "the Ring of
Fire," a zone of volcanic activity which accounts for 75
percent of the world's active and dormant volcanoes.

The town of Rabaul was destroyed in the September 1994
eruption of Tuvurvur volcano.