A powerful magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck in the ocean off the coast of New Zealand on Friday, prompting thousands of people to evacuate and triggering tsunami warnings across the South Pacific. The quake was the largest in a series of tremors that struck the region over several hours, including two earlier quakes that registered magnitude 7.4 and magnitude 7.3, the AP reports. While the quakes triggered warning systems and caused traffic jams and some chaos in New Zealand as people scrambled to get to higher ground, they did not appear to pose a widespread threat to lives or major infrastructure. That's because of the remoteness of where they hit. The largest struck about 620 miles off the coast of New Zealand. One of the earlier quakes hit much closer to New Zealand and awoke many people during the night as they felt a long, rumbling shaking.
"Hope everyone is ok out there," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Facebook. After the largest quake, civil defense authorities told people in certain areas on the East Coast of the North Island that they should move immediately to higher ground and not stay in their homes. They said a damaging tsunami was possible. The US Tsunami Warning System also cautioned that the larger quake could cause tsunami waves of 3 to 10 feet in French Polynesia and waves of up to 3 feet in Niue, New Caledonia, and the Solomon Islands. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunamis could later strike Hawaii, but the warning later was canceled, per the AP. The US Geological Survey said the larger quake was centered in the remote Kermadec Islands at a depth of 12 miles. In 2011, a magnitude 6.3 quake hit the city of Christchurch, killing 185 people and destroying much of its downtown.
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