Magnitude 7.5 quake strikes in Pacific near New Caledonia

A powerful earthquake in the southern Pacific Ocean has sent jitters around the region after authorities warned of possible tsunamis, but there were no initial reports of destructive waves or major damage.

French territory of New Caledonia sits on the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean

The quake affecting the French territory of New Caledonia struck Wednesday local time at a depth of 10 kilometres, the U.S. Geological Survey says. (USGS)

A powerful earthquake in the southern Pacific Ocean has sent jitters around the region after authorities warned of possible tsunamis, but there were no initial reports of destructive waves or major damage.

The magnitude 7.5 quake hit in Wednesday afternoon near the French territory of New Caledonia at a shallow depth, where earthquakes are generally more damaging. It was felt as far away as Vanuatu, about 630 kilometres away.

Tsunami sirens blared across New Caledonia minutes after the quake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves of between one and three metres were possible along some coasts of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, before later lifting the warning.

Local authorities in New Caledonia ordered residents to evacuate coastal zones on the eastern edge of the archipelago, including the Loyalty Islands and the island of Ile des Pins. The evacuation order from the regional police said western islands didn't need to evacuate but should remain vigilant.

While residents of the region are familiar with tsunami warnings and evacuations, the quake startled tourists, including communications consultant Eugenie Kerleau, 30, vacationing on the island of Lifou from her home in mainland France.

"It was really surprising, I had a feeling of vertigo, the curtains were moving. We were immediately evacuated from the hotel to a calmer point at higher altitude," she told The Associated Press.

Small tsunami

No damage was immediately reported, according to Vincent Lepley, crisis co-ordinator for the Red Cross in New Caledonia.

Judith Rostain, a freelance journalist based in New Caledonia's capital of Noumea, said there was no damage to the city. She said the situation remained unclear on the east coast and scattered outer islands.

In Vanuatu, Dan McGarry said he heard only of three small wave surges hitting the southern island of Aneityum. McGarry, the media director at the Vanuatu Daily Post, said the waves travelled only a couple of metres beyond the normal tidal waves and that everybody on the island was fine.

McGarry said he felt the quake where he is based in Vanuatu's capital of Port Vila as a mild shaking.

"We get a lot of earthquakes every year," he said. "The tsunami warning was what was different this time, though."

The warning centre said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake struck about 168 kilometres east of Tadine in New Caledonia at a shallow depth of 10 kilometres. At least six aftershocks also hit, ranging in magnitude from 5.6 to 6.6.

The populations of Vanuatu and New Caledonia are similar, with just over 280,000 people living in each archipelago.

Last month, voters in New Caledonia elected to remain a territory of France rather than become independent. Both New Caledonia and Vanuatu sit on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world's earthquakes and volcanic activity occur.