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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 7:34 a.m., Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Tonga reports no immediate damage

Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck early Thursday near the South Pacific nation of Tonga, and a tsunami warning was issued, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

A warning said it was possible a tsunami could hit Fiji and New Zealand. Police in Fiji and Tonga said there were no signs of impact from a tsunami.

Speaking about the time a wave was forecast to reach the islands, police spokesman Mesake Koroi in Fiji's capital, Suva, said there had been no immediate reports of a tsunami.

A police officer in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, said there were no immediate reports of damage or a tsunami.

Another officer in Neiafu, 180 miles to the north, said the quake was felt for about 90 seconds.

"It was strong but not long," duty constable Salesi Baongo said.

Asked whether the tsunami warning had been received, Baongo said, "No, we haven't heard about it."

The temblor, classified by the USGS as a "great" quake, struck 95 miles south of Neiafu, Tonga, and 1,340 miles north-northeast of Auckland, New Zealand. It occurred 20 miles beneath the sea floor.

The U.S. National Weather Service warned that a tsunami could strike Fiji as soon as 1:13 p.m. EDT Wednesday and New Zealand by 2:21 p.m. EDT Wednesday.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said it was not known whether the quake generated a potentially deadly giant wave. It issued the warning for Tonga, Niue, American Samoa, Samoa, Wallis-Futuna, Fiji.

A tsunami advisory was issued for Hawaii, but the warning center said the earthquake, based on historical records, was not sufficient to generate a tsunami damaging to the Pacific coasts of the United States and Canada, and Alaska. Some areas may experience small sea-level changes.

Tonga — a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti — has a population of about 108,000 and an economy dependent on pumpkin and vanilla exports, fishing, foreign aid and remittances from Tongans abroad.

It is ruled by 87-year-old King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who is ailing.

On Dec. 26, 2004, the most powerful earthquake in four decades — magnitude 9.0 — ripped apart the Indian Ocean floor off Indonesia's Sumatra island, displacing millions of tons of water and spawning giant waves that sped off in all directions.

The tsunami left at least 216,000 people dead or missing in a dozen nations.

Fiji, a South Pacific country made up of more than 300 islands, a third of which are inhabited, is regularly rattled by earthquakes, but few cause any damage or casualties.