7.9 magnitude earthquake strikes near Tonga, tsunami generated

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a magnitude 7.9 earthquake has struck in the Pacific Ocean approximately 130 miles (209 km) south-southeast of Nuku'Alofa, Tonga, generating a tsunami. It struck at 6:17 a.m. (local time) and was registered at a depth of only 6.2 miles (10km).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) had earlier issued a tsunami warning for Tonga, Fiji, American Samoa, Samoa, Niue and the Kermadec Islands, which was later canceled. The warning did not include Hawaii.

"Sea level readings confirm that a tsunami was generated. This tsunami may have been destructive along coastlines of the region near the earthquake epicenter," said the PTWC in a statement posted on their website. The size of the tsunami was not known.

There were no reports of damage, injuries or deaths. According to the USGS, over 6,000 people live in the region hit by the quake. The USGS says damage could be minor in Havelu and 'Ohonua of Tonga, but residents are not concerned. One resident said that when morning arrived, people were "laughing" at the tsunami warning. No major waves were reported.

On Wednesday, a volcano near the country's coastline began to erupt sending plumes of smoke and ash into the sky. The volcano is roughly 6 kilometers (4 mi) from the Tonga coast.