New Zealand Faces Tsunami Risk After 8.1-Magnitude South Pacific Earthquake

SYDNEY – Parts of New Zealand were evacuated Friday after an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in the South Pacific, prompting officials to send out tsunami warnings for coastal areas.

The earthquake was recorded near the Kermadec Islands between Tonga and New Zealand’s North Island early Friday morning, according to the US Geological Survey.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center urged the public in the area to be vigilant and closely monitor the situation.

“Tsunami waves have been observed,” the center said, adding that dangerous tsunami waves are forecast for some coastlines based on the data available.

Following evacuation orders and warnings to move away from the coast, thousands of New Zealanders fled to higher plains, went for walks, rode and rode bicycles.

Several cities near the north coast of the country emptied themselves within hours of tsunami warnings from the government via sirens or SMS.

“This was a dynamic event that is constantly evolving,” Emergency Minister Kiri Allan said at a press conference on Friday. “The people in the region did the right things by picking them up, packing them and, by and large, staying calm.”

Several people near the coast reported disturbing signs of water receding and spinning.

Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Daniel Thompson, a motel owner in Doubtless Bay on the east coast of the North Island, described unusual tide changes that seemed to disrupt local wildlife.

“The seagulls went completely still, they just sat and did nothing,” said Mr. Thompson. “The bird activity was very strange.”

The people of Whangarei in the Northland region described the water in the harbor as an unusual color and the sinking water level, reported TVNZ.

New Zealand officials said the tsunami threat would last for several hours as geologists gathered data on the effects of the earthquakes. Waves near the epicenter move quickly and then slow down and increase in size as they approach land. In New Zealand, officials said the expected climb could be up to three meters, or nearly 10 feet.

“We ask those who have moved to a higher level or inland to stay where they are until the official all-clear,” said Ms. Allan, Minister for Emergency Management. “We know that people at home may get a little tired or bored or whatever it is, but we ask people not to leave these areas until we are all clear.”

A tsunami watch issued for the state of Hawaii has been canceled. Forecasters said the islands no longer face any threat. The clock had been running for a little over an hour.

“This is a great reminder to stay vigilant and prepared,” Hawaiian Governor David Ige said on Twitter.

Less than two hours before the 8.1 magnitude earthquake, seismologists recorded a 7.4 magnitude earthquake about 31 miles west, according to the US Geological Survey. The agency said the first earthquake was most likely what is known as a foreshock.

Six hours earlier, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake was reported about 560 miles south, seismologists said.

Damien Cave reported from Sydney, Neil Vigdor from Greenwich, Connecticut, and Natasha Frost from Auckland.

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