7.9 magnitude earthquake rocks Papua New Guinea, tsunami waves possible

Posted at 8:03 AM, Dec 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-17 10:03:54-05

PAPUA NEW GUINEA (CNN) -Dangerous waves could be headed to some South Pacific coasts after an 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the sea off Papua New Guinea on Saturday night, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said in a preliminary alert.

The quake struck in the ocean about 45 kilometers east of Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland island, also known as Latangai, at about 8:51 p.m. (5:51 a.m. ET), the US Geological Survey said.

Hazardous tsunamis are possible though about midnight local time along some coasts of that country, as well as the Solomon Islands, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Indonesia, Nauru, Kosrae and Vanuatu, the PTWC said.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management also issued a tsunami warning for the country, in a tweet.

“No evacuations are necessary at this stage,” added the MCDEM in another tweet. “However, please stay out of the water and off the beaches following this evening’s tsunami threat.”

Papua New Guinea is along the “Ring of Fire,” a zone of seismic activity and volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a vast area where about 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur, according to the USGS.

The ring, which actually is shaped more like a horseshoe, includes more than 400 underwater volcanoes and stretches 25,000 miles from New Zealand, past Japan, across the Bering Strait and down to the tip of South America.

Tremors in this part of the world are fairly common, and earlier this month a magnitude-7.8 earthquake also hit close to the Solomon Islands.

That December 9 earthquake was “one of the biggest and longest I have ever felt,” said Tali Hong, who has lived in the capital Honiara his entire life.

However, the largest observed wave from that quake, according to sea level gauges, was only 0.12 meters (5 inches) near Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) northwest of the epicenter.