S. Pacific quakes cause small tsunami

Associated Press / October 8, 2009

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Three strong earthquakes rocked the South Pacific near the Vanuatu archipelago today, generating a small tsunami just over a week after another massive wave killed 178 people in the Samoas and Tonga.

There were no immediate reports of damage, and all tsunami warnings and watches were soon canceled. Still, the alerts caused thousands of residents to flee to higher ground in at least three Pacific islands.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a regional tsunami warning for 11 nations and territories after a quake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck 183 miles northwest of the Vanuatu island of Santo at a depth of 21 miles. Two other quakes of magnitude 7.7 and 7.3 followed in the same area.

The center canceled the tsunami warnings after sea-level readings indicated that the wave generated by the quakes was too small to cause much damage.

In Samoa, where at least 137 were killed in the Sept. 29 tsunami, the alerts caused thousands of people to “run for the hills,’’ according to an AP reporter.

Seismologist Rafael Abreu with the US Geological Survey, said the timing of today’s quakes was coincidental and the Vanuatu event appeared to be unrelated to the Sept. 29 quake.