Wellington, New Zealand (AP + Diplomat.so) - A powerful magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck in the ocean off the coast of New Zealand on Friday, prompting some evacuations and tsunami warnings across the South Pacific.
It was the second large quake to strike within hours. An offshore magnitude 7.3 quake had awoken many people during the night throughout New Zealand. While both quakes triggered warning systems, neither of them appeared to pose a widespread threat to lives or major infrastructure.
Civil defense authorities in New Zealand told people in certain areas on the East Coast of the North Island on Friday morning that they should move immediately to higher ground and not stay in their homes. They said a damaging tsunami was possible.
The U.S. Tsunami Warning System also cautioned that the larger quake could cause tsunami waves of between 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet) in French Polynesia and waves of up to 1 meter (3 feet) in Niue, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the larger quake was centered in the remote Kermadec Islands at a depth of 19 kilometers (12 miles).
Officials in New Zealand had hours earlier issued a tsunami warning for coastal areas after the smaller earthquake struck off its northeastern coast at about 3 a.m. Friday. There were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties and the warning was later lifted just before the larger quake struck.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the earlier quake was centered at a depth of 21 kilometers (13 miles) under the ocean about 174 kilometers (108 miles) northeast of the city of Gisborne.
The earlier quake was more widely felt in New Zealand, and residents in the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch reported being shaken awake.
In 2011, a magnitude 6.3 quake hit the city of Christchurch, killing 185 people and destroying much of its downtown.