Quakes strike near New Caledonia

  • Story Highlights
  • No reports of injuries or damage, official says
  • Quakes too small to generate Pacific-wide tsunami, geophysicist says
  • New Caledonia lies along Pacific Basin's "Ring of Fire"

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (AP) -- A series of earthquakes struck near the French islands of New Caledonia in the South Pacific on Friday, prompting increased vigilance for a tsunami, though officials said there was no immediate risk.

About 15 quakes hit the region and some ranged in magnitude from 5.0 to 6.6, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The quakes struck around midday local time and most were centered in a region about 100 miles east of New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands, it said.

There were no reports of injuries or damage in the sparsely populated atolls nearest the epicenter, said Capt. Jean-Christian Baratto, an official with the French High Commissariat in New Caledonia.

He said residents of Maree Island, the closest to the epicenter, felt only "slight shaking."

Stuart Koyanagi, a geophysicist with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, said the quakes were too small to generate a Pacific-wide tsunami.

While the center warned that the largest of the quakes had the potential to generate a local tsunami, Baratto dismissed that possibility.

"We are watching carefully. There is no risk of a local tsunami," he said.

The French High Commissariat in New Caledonia convened an urgent meeting to discuss the quakes. Local police were warned to stay "vigilant," the commissariat said.

New Caledonia is a collection of small islands with a population of about 221,000 people located some 1,120 miles northeast of Australia. It lies along the Pacific Basin's so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines where quakes are frequent.

The quakes came soon as New Caledonia is testing a new tsunami warning system, Baratto said. The system includes text messages that would be sent to cell phones in the case of a tsunami risk.

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Original article: CNN - World
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