3 quakes put Hawaii under tsunami watch


POSTED: Thursday, October 08, 2009

Hawaii was under a tsunami watch briefly yesterday after three powerful earthquakes rocked the South Pacific near the Vanuatu archipelago, about 3,501 miles southwest of Honolulu.

The first quake, with a magnitude of 7.8, struck at 12:03 p.m. Hawaii time.

That was followed by two more quakes measuring 7.7 and 7.2 in the same area.

The Ewa Beach-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center immediately issued a regional tsunami warning for 11 nations and territories and a lower-level tsunami watch as far away as Australia and Hawaii. The center canceled all warnings two hours later.

The warning forced evacuations in several countries.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the initial quake generated tsunami waves 2 to 4 inches high.

The alerts created worry in American Samoa, where at least 32 people were killed and hundreds of homes were destroyed last week. Residents of the coastal village of Utulei fled to the hills after hearing there was a tsunami watch for the U.S. territory.

More than 80 American Red Cross workers, including 15 from Hawaii, who are part of the relief effort in American Samoa, were also evacuated to higher ground.