Strong earthquakes hit the Pacific off New Caledonia

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A series of strong earthquakes, the largest measuring 6.6 on the moment magnitude scale, has struck the Pacific Ocean near the French territory of New Caledonia, U.S. seismologists say. No tsunami warnings have been issued.

The first one happened at about 8:25 p.m. local time on Sunday when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Maré Island in the Loyalty Islands, or 245 kilometers (152 miles) northeast of the capital Noumea on the New Caledonian mainland.

The same region was struck by a larger earthquake about 6 hours later, at 2:09 a.m. on Monday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which put the magnitude at 6.6. It said a 5.9-magnitude aftershock rattled the same area about an hour later, at 3:08 a.m.

Neither the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center nor the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning. “Based on all available data, there is no tsunami threat from this earthquake,” the Pacific center said about both the 6.4 and 6.6 earthquakes.

Computer models from the USGS estimated that as many as 381,000 people on nearby islands may have felt the earthquakes. Some damage and casualties are possible because structures in the region are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking, the USGS said.

“It was strong enough to wake us up,” a resident in Noumea told the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center about the second earthquake. There was no immediate word on damage or casualties.

New Caledonia, which consists of a number of islands and is home to about 270,000 people, is located on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire,’ an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent and large earthquakes.

Late last month, a strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the same region.

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