A magnitude 8.1 earthquake shook the sea off New Zealand on Friday, causing thousands of people to evacuate and trigger tsunami warnings over the South Pacific.
The quake was the largest in a series of quakes that hit the region for several hours, including two previous earthquakes that recorded magnitude 7.4 and magnitude 7.3.
While the earthquakes triggered warning systems and caused traffic jams and some chaos in New Zealand as people climbed to reach higher ground, they did not appear to pose a widespread threat to life or major infrastructure.
It depends on the distance where they meet. The largest hit about 1,000 kilometers off the coast of New Zealand.
One of the earlier earthquakes struck much closer to New Zealand and woke many people during the night when they felt a long, rumbling shake.
“Hope everyone is ok out there,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Facebook.
Hope everyone is well – especially on the east coast which would have felt the full force of the whole earthquake (the map here shows how many people reported it across the country)
Posted by Jacinda Ardern on Thursday, March 4th, 2021
Following the largest earthquake, New Zealand Civil Defense told people in some areas of the island’s North Island that they should move immediately to higher ground and not stay in their homes. They said a catastrophic tsunami was possible.
The US Tsunami Warning System also warned that it could cause tsunami waves of up to 3 meters in Vanuatu and up to 1 meter in Australia, Fiji, French Polynesia and as far away as Mexico and Peru.
The US Geological Survey said it was centered in the remote Kermadec Islands at a depth of 19 kilometers (12 miles).
The agency said in a report that the earthquake occurred at the intersection of the tectonic plates of the Pacific and Australia and darkened the largest earthquake previously recorded in the region, a magnitude 8.0 in 1976.
It is said that the interaction between the plates creates one of the most seismically active regions in the world, and it has recorded 215 earthquakes there over the magnitude 6.0 in the last century.
The US Geological Survey said the 7.4 magnitude earthquake was likely an “earthquake” that contributed to the major earthquake but that the first earthquake that struck New Zealand was too far away in time and distance to have directly contributed.
Officials in New Zealand had issued a tsunami warning for coastal areas hours earlier after the first of the minor earthquakes struck off its northeast coast at 3 a.m. on Friday. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths and the warning was lifted shortly before the biggest earthquake occurred.
The US Geological Survey said the first earthquake was centered at a depth of 21 kilometers (13 miles) under the sea about 174 kilometers (108 miles) northeast of the city of Gisborne.
It was widely felt in New Zealand, and residents of the major cities of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch reported being shaken awake.
In 2011, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city of Christchurch, killing 185 people and destroying much of the city center.