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Pacific quakes stir panic but tsunamis tiny
Wed Oct 7, 2009 10:29pm EDT
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By Michael Perry
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Undersea earthquakes caused panic in the South Pacific on Thursday, sending islanders fleeing to higher ground on fears of a second devastating tsunami in as many weeks, but a series of waves proved to be tiny and harmless.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center 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 Center canceled 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.
A reporter at Vanuatu's Daily Post newspaper said people on Espiritu Santo island were running for higher ground. "We have had reports that the kids are running into the hills," she said.
Some villagers in outlying islands in the Solomons reported tidal changes. "People on the coastal areas have noticed a tide difference. The hospital is on alert," a hospital spokesman on tiny Nendo island in southwest Solomon Islands said by telephone.
The tsunami warning center issued its warning after two subsea quakes, one measuring 7.8 magnitude and the other 7.3.
"Sea-level readings indicate a tsunami was generated," said the center. "The wave may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter."
Islands near the epicenter are remote and sparsely populated, with communications difficult.
Moments before the quakes, a magnitude 6.7 tremor struck southeast of the Sulu archipelago of the Philippines, which is still mopping up from a typhoon that killed at least 22 people.
Indonesia's port city Padang was hit by a 7.6 magnitude quake last week, killing 704 people and leaving 295 missing, but the health minister said the toll could reach 3,000.
SERIES OF QUAKES, ALARMING
Mike Sandiford, at the School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, said the series of large quakes in the region was unusual and that aftershocks could be expected for a few weeks.
"We only get about a dozen earthquakes of that magnitude or larger around the globe in a year, so it very unusual," Sandiford told Australian media. Continued...
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