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3 powerful earthquakes hit off coast of New Zealand: Tsunami threat remains

Several powerful earthquakes hit near the coast of New Zealand Thursday night and Friday morning, prompting tsunami warnings for New Zealand and tsunami watches for Hawaii. 

The most powerful was an 8.1 quake that hit some 620 miles northeast of New Zealand on Friday morning, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Two earlier quakes registered magnitude 7.4 and magnitude 7.3.

There were no immediate reports of serious damage or casualties.

While the quakes triggered warning systems and caused traffic jams and some chaos in New Zealand as people scrambled to get to higher ground, they did not appear to pose a widespread threat to lives or major infrastructure.

Following the 8.1 quake, 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. 

New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency tweeted, “People near coast from the BAY OF ISLANDS to WHANGAREI, from MATATA to TOLAGA BAY, and GREAT BARRIER ISLAND must MOVE IMMEDIATELY to nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible,” they wrote.

“Hope everyone is ok out there,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Facebook.

Hawaii was under a tsunami watch.

“Based on all available data, a tsunami may have been generated by this earthquake that could be destructive on coastal areas even far from the epicenter,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The warning center is reviewing data to gauge the potential impact of a tsunami on California along with the remainder of the West Coast.

Officials in New Zealand had issued an advisory for coastal areas after the first shallow, powerful earthquake struck off its northeastern coast Thursday night.

“We expect New Zealand coastal areas to experience strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges at the shore,” New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency tweeted.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the first quake was centered at a depth of13 miles under the ocean about 108 miles northeast of the city of Gisborne. Residents of Gisborne reported light to moderate shaking.

A magnitude 6.3 quake hit the New Zealand city of Christchurch in 2011, killing 185 people and destroying much of its downtown.

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Contributing: The Associated Press

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