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Pacific quakes stir panic but tsunami proved tiny

UNDERSEA earthquakes caused panic in the South Pacific today, sending islanders fleeing to higher ground on fears of a second devastating tsunami in as many weeks, but the wave proved to be tiny and harmless.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for the entire southwest Pacific, which included island resorts and Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia, after the quakes struck beneath the seas between Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Hawaii and the Philippines were placed on tsunami watch.

The Center cancelled its warning after a 4 cm tsunami was recorded at Lunganville on Espiritu Santo island in Vanuatu.

But with memories still fresh of a destructive tsunami last week that killed some 150 people in American Samoa and Samoa, many islanders panicked when the quake hit and tsunami warnings were issued in each nation.

"People were frightened and some ran out of the building onto the street because it was so strong," Florence Cari, receptionist at Hotel Santo in Vanuatu, told by telephone.

A reporter at Vanuatu's Daily Post newspaper said people on Espiritu Santo island were running for higher ground. "We have had reports that the kids are running into the hills," she said.

Some villagers in outlying islands in the Solomons reported tidal changes.

"People on the coastal areas have noticed a tide difference. The hospital is on alert," a hospital spokesman on tiny Nendo island in southwest Solomon Islands told Reuters by telephone.

The tsunami warning center issued its warning after two subsea quakes, one measuring 7.8 magnitude and the other 7.3.

"Sea-level readings indicate a tsunami was generated," said the center. "The wave may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter."

Islands near the epicentre are remote and sparsely populated, with communications difficult.

Moments before the Pacific quakes, a magnitude 6.7 tremor struck southeast of the Sulu archipelago of the Philippines which is still mopping up from a typhoon that killed at least 22 people.


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