Mass evacuations as large quakes spark Pacific-wide tsunami alert


WELLINGTON, March 5, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Tens of thousands of coastal
residents in New Zealand, New Caledonia and Vanuatu fled for higher ground
Friday as a cluster of powerful earthquakes sparked a Pacific-wide tsunami

Warning sirens sounded across Noumea as authorities ordered evacuations
amid fears that waves of up three metres (10 feet) were headed towards the
French territory.

“People must leave beach areas and stop all water activities, and should
not pick their children up at schools to avoid creating traffic jams,”
emergency services spokesman Alexandre Rosignol told public radio.

In New Zealand, communities along stretches of the North Island were warned
to flee as tsunami alert sirens wailed after an 8.1-magnitude quake, which
followed earlier tremors in the same region measuring 7.4 and 7.3.

“Do not stay at home,”the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.

“People near the coast… must move immediately to the nearest high ground,
out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible.”

The largest of the quakes struck around 1,000 kilometres (640 miles) off
the New Zealand coast at 8:28 am (1928 Thursday GMT), the US Geological
Survey said.

It was preceded by two seismic jolts that were also enormously powerful, in
an unusually strong cluster even for the Pacific ring of fire, where the
Earth’s tectonic plates collide.

New Zealand’s NEMA said the remoteness of the quakes did not minimise their
potential impact.

“The earthquake may not have been felt in some of these areas, but
evacuation should be immediate as a damaging tsunami is possible,” it said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said Vanuatu and New Caledonia were
likely to experience the largest waves, measuring up to three metres.

“Based on all available data, hazardous tsunami waves are forecast for some
coasts,” it said.

It said initial smaller waves were already reported in Tonga, and small
waves were also possible as far afield as Japan, Russia, Mexico and the South
American coast.

No damage or injuries were reported from the earlier quakes, both of which
generated tsunami warnings that were later lifted.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand was among those given an early
morning wake-up.

“Hope everyone is ok out there — especially on the East Coast who would
have felt the full force of that earthquake,” she posted on Instagram after
the inital shake at 2:27 am.

New Zealand experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity but
Emergency Services Minister Kiri Allan said she had never before experienced
such a strong sequence of earthquakes.

“This has been an extraordinary morning for many New Zealanders up and down
the country,” she said.

“From 2:30am this morning they have been up, worried about their homes and
their families.”

The South Pacific nation recently marked the 10th anniversary of the
Christchurch earthquake, when a 6.3 tremor resulted in 185 deaths in the
South Island city.