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Strong quake near Tonga prompts tsunami warning

A strong 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck today near Tonga, generating a tsunami with the potential of striking coastlines in the South Pacific, officials said. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage, and hours later the tsunami warning was canceled.

The quake struck about 130 miles (200 kilometers) south-southeast of the Tongan capital of Nuku'Alofa at a depth of 6.2 miles (10 kilometers), the US Geological Survey said.

Less than four hours after the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii canceled its tsunami warning for Tonga and for the Pacific islands of Fiji, Samoa, American Samoa, Niue, Kermadec Islands and the French territories of Wallis-Futuna.

Officials in the Tongan capital, Nuku'alofa, said there were no immediate reports of injury or damage in the 170-island archipelago.

"Quite remarkable, given the magnitude of it. We might have gotten off lightly," the national police commander, Chris Kelly, said.

"The house really moved, the trees were swaying and the ground was rippling," he said.

Local resident Linny Folau said the quake shook her single-level house as she slept.

"We woke up to the shake, as it lasted longer than the normal ones we have - mild at first but it escalated" in intensity, she said. "But there was no panic."

Resident Dana Stephenson said the quake started with "deep rumblings ... then side to side movement which seemed to go on forever but I guess was about 40 seconds - which is long enough."

"We're shaken but not stirred," she added.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had immediately issued a tsunami warning for Tonga and neighboring islands, and reported that sea level readings confirmed that a potentially destructive tsunami wave was generated by the quake.

Radio stations in Tonga broadcast warnings that a tsunami was possible and that people should move away from coastal villages, but police and residents said no big wave had been reported. Kelly said it was canceled by midmorning local time.

Police spokesman Niua Kama said most residents did not appear to take the warning seriously.

"People are out on the roads, laughing at the warning," he told The Associated Press. "They are not moving from the coast" even though there had been "a strong warning of a tsunami. Police have not taken any action at this stage."

Kelly said authorities would review "questions around the issuing of tsunami warnings," with actions "likely to include some public education."

The tsunami center also advised that some coastal areas of Hawaii could see a rise in sea level and strong currents lasting up to several hours.

New Zealand seismologist Craig Miller said "a long, low rolling motion" from the quake was reported by residents on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island - more than 1,875 miles (3,000 kilometers) from the quake's epicenter.


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