July 15, 2009

Strong NZ Quake Triggers Tsunami Alert In Australia

A series of very small tsunami waves hit Australia's east coast after a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake in New Zealand that triggered a brief tsunami alert. No casualties or major damage was reported.

The US Geological Survey reported that the undersea earthquake's epicenter was located approximately 100 miles west of Invercargill, a city on South Island, at a depth of about 22 miles below the remote Fiordland region.

New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, on the other hand, reported that it only struck a depth of about 3 miles. It struck at 0922 GMT.

Warnings of a low-level tsunami were generated when the tremor hit near the tip of New Zealand's South Island. People in coastal areas were urged to move to higher ground.

The quake was measured at 6.6-magnitude by New Zealand, although U.S. and Japanese geologists recorded it as stronger, at 7.8.

A Tsunami warning was issued by New Zealand for a string of its coastal towns and cities, but was later cancelled.

Emergency management spokesman Vince Cholewa said, "We've had big differences in the measurements of the quake... we're issuing a precautionary message."

An aftershock was recorded at 6.1-magnitude in the same area only 20 minutes later, according to the government institute.

A tsunami was detected in the Tasman Sea heading towards the country's southeast coast, Australia said.

Though the wave was not expected to be very destructive, it was still capable of causing strong currents and coastal flooding, said Australia's Tsunami Warning Center.

"People in areas with threat to land inundation and flooding are strongly advised by emergency authorities to go to higher ground or at least 1km inland," said the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The rolling motion of the tremor was reportedly felt across New Zealand's South Island and lasted at least a minute.

A few minor cracks in some buildings and items falling from shelves in supermarkets were reported in the local media.

New Zealand's Herald newspaper reported people running from restaurants in Queenstown as buildings shook. In some places there were even power and phone lines severed.

"The whole house was moving, the door was moving in the doorframe, and the fence posts were moving," Invercargill resident Simon Wilson told Radio New Zealand.

Another Invercargill resident claimed that his wife and their three young children huddled together beneath the dining table during the quake, reported the New Zealand Press Association.

New Zealand records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year due to the meeting of the continental plates as part of the "Ring of Fire." However, only about 150 are felt by residents and less than 10 cause damage every year.


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