Sydney, Australia, March 5 (efe-epa).- New Zealand authorities allowed thousands of evacuated residents to return home Friday after lowering the tsunami alert it issued following a series of large earthquakes of up to magnitude-8.1 off the northeast coast in the early morning.
Wave surges were filmed by residents on higher ground above Tokomaru Bay, at the top of the North Island’s east coast, and posted to social media.
People as far as the bottom of the South Island reported feeling the large tremors.
The powerful magnitude-8.1 earthquake was recorded at a shallow depth of 19 kilometers in the Kermedec Islands, about 960 kilometers northeast of Auckland, hours after two other magnitude-7.4 and 7.3 tremors were recorded – one in the same area and another close to the mainland.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued the tsunami warning for much of the country, as well as for waves up to three meters in French Polynesia and smaller surges in Niue, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.
While residents can now return home, unusual currents and unpredictable waves were still expected along the coast for up to 24 hours, the National Emergency Management Agency said. People were advised to stay away from beaches.
The threat of other earthquakes of magnitude 7 and above remains “very likely” in the next 30 days, a statement issued Friday by geological activity control agency GeoNet said. Many aftershocks occurred in the following hours.
The management agency ordered thousands of residents from coastal areas of the North Island to “immediately move” to nearby elevated areas and remain there until further notice, which caused congestion of vehicles in affected areas.
The agency had also warned Friday morning of an unpredictable increase in wave height near Auckland, which is located on the North Island and is the country’s biggest city with 1.7 million people.
“We have literally seen New Zealanders comply with the order and grab their bags. It has been a moving event that is constantly evolving,” Emergency Management Minister Kiri Allan said at a press conference, adding that the alert could last for several hours.
New Zealand, with a population of 5 million people, sits on the faultline between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates and registers some 15,000 earthquakes yearly, of which between 100 and 150 are powerful enough to be felt.
On Feb. 22, 2011, 185 people were killed in a magnitude-6.3 earthquake that struck the city of Christchurch in the South Island and damaged 30,000 buildings. EFE-EPA