UPDATE 4 – Powerful quake hits the Pacific off New Caledonia, generates small tsunami

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A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.0 has struck the Pacific Ocean near the French territory of New Caledonia, just hours after a series of smaller earthquakes. A small tsunami has been observed in the area.

The largest earthquake, which struck at 9:43 a.m. local time on Monday, was centered about 62 kilometers (38 miles) northeast of Maré Island in the Loyalty Islands, or 250 kilometers (156 miles) northeast of the capital Noumea on the New Caledonian mainland.

Immediately after the earthquake, a tsunami alert was issued for New Caledonia and Vanuatu. Small tsunami waves were later observed near the islands of Maré and Lifou in New Caledonia, as well as Tanna island in Vanuatu. It was not immediately known if the tsunamis had caused any damage.

The tsunami alerts for New Caledonia and Vanuatu were canceled at 11:05 a.m. “Minor sea level fluctuations of up to 0.3 meters (118 inches) above and below the normal tide may continue over the next few hours,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Monday’s earthquake was preceded by a series of smaller earthquakes. A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck the same area at 8:25 p.m. local time on Sunday, followed by a 6.6-magnitude earthquake at 2:09 a.m. and an aftershock measuring 5.9 at 3:08 a.m.

Computer models from the USGS estimated that as many as 396,000 people on nearby islands may have felt the earthquakes. Some damage and casualties are possible because structures in this 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 6.6-magnitude earthquake that struck at 2:09 a.m. There were no immediate reports of 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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