7.2 quake hits South Pacific nation of Vanuatu

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By Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.2 rattled the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu early Friday, briefly triggering a tsunami watch for the region, officials said. There were no immediate reports of damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck just after 4 a.m. local time and was centered 300 miles (485 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Port Vila, at a depth of 22 miles (36 kilometers).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning for Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, but canceled the alert about an hour later.

The center's duty geophysicist Barry Hershorn said they had confirmed there was no tsunami from ocean buoys and from coastal sea level gauges in Vanuatu.

Authorities in Vanuatu said they were checking for information on the quake and were pleased the tsunami alert had been canceled.

"The very close proximity (of the quake epicenter) to Espirito Santo (the closest island) meant there was nothing much we could do" to alert residents to any danger, said Meteorological Office acting director Salesa Kaniaha.

"We haven't received any reports yet about earthquake damage," he said, adding any such reports were likely later Friday when authorities had checked settlements on the nation's islands.

Vanuatu — a chain of 83 islands — lies just over1,400 miles (2,200 kilometers) northeast of Sydney.