By Praveen Menon
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Tsunami warning sirens sounded on Friday and thousands of New Zealanders on the North Island’s east coast evacuated to higher ground after a third earthquake.
Workers, students and residents fled in areas like Northland and Bay of Plenty. Civil defense officials were on the ground to help people evacuate as authorities said tsunami waves could reach three meters (10 feet) above tide levels.
The latest quake had a magnitude of 8.1 and struck the Kermadec Islands, northeast of New Zealand’s North Island. This came shortly after a 7.4 magnitude earthquake in the same region. Earlier, a large 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck about 900 kilometers (540 miles) away on the east of the North Island. There were no reports of damage or casualties from the quakes.
New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the first waves would arrive on New Zealand’s north shores by about 9:45 a.m. It said areas under threat were from the Bay of Islands to Whangarei, from Matata to Tolaga Bay including Whakatane and Opotiki, and the Great Barrier Island.
“We want everyone to take this threat seriously. Move to high ground,” Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai told state broadcaster TVNZ.
Warnings were also issued for other Pacific islands like Tonga, American Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Hawaii and others.
Australia issued a marine tsunami threat for Norfolk Island but said there was no threat to the mainland. Chile said it could experience a minor tsunami.
The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck off the east of New Zealand’s North Island was felt by more than 60,000 people across the country with many describing the shaking as “severe”. Aftershocks were still being recorded in the area.
“People near the coast in the following areas must move immediately to the nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible. DO NOT STAY AT HOME,” NEMA said on Twitter.
“The earthquake may not have been felt in some of these areas, but evacuation should be immediate as a damaging tsunami is possible,” it added.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Nick Macfie, Chizu Nomiyama, Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)