Pacific earthquake sparks tsunami fears

Pacific earthquake sparks tsunami fears

A powerful earthquake rattled the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea, generating a small tsunami and frightening people near the epicentre, but prompting no reports of damage or injuries.

A tsunami of half a metre (1.5ft) was measured in the harbour of Rabaul, a town near the epicentre of the magnitude-7.7 earthquake, said Martin Mose, acting director for Papua New Guinea's National Disaster Centre. The quake struck at a depth of 40 miles, about 30 miles south east of the town of Kokopo in north-eastern Papua New Guinea, the US Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre had warned that tsunami waves up to three metres (10ft) could strike parts of Papua New Guinea, and waves of less than 0.3 metres (1ft) could hit other Pacific countries, as far north as Russia.

The centre lifted the warning a few hours later after reporting a 3cm (1in) tsunami wave was measured at a wharf in the Solomon Islands, about 280 miles from the epicentre.

In Rabaul, a town near Kokopo, people noticed the sea level rose slightly, prompting ocean water to flood the car park at a shopping centre near the beach, said Mika Tuvi, who works at the Rabaul Hotel. "But nothing beyond that, no damage caused," she said.

When the quake struck, guests and workers at the hotel fled outside, fearing the building would collapse, Ms Tuvi said. The tremors, which lasted for about five minutes, were frightening in their intensity, but the hotel withstood the shaking and suffered no damage, she said.

Officials in Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby were working to contact their counterparts in the outer provinces, but there had been no reports of damage or injuries hours after the quake, said Martin Mose, acting director for the country's National Disaster Centre. He said he was confident the nation had averted a major catastrophe.

The quake caused strong shaking and knocked items off shelves in Kokopo, said Chris McKee, assistant director of the Geophysical Observatory in Port Moresby.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which lies on the "Ring of Fire" - an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim.