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7.8 Magnitude Quake Off New Zealand Creates Small Tsunami

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck off New Zealand's western coast Wednesday generating a small tsunami. No injuries or major damage were reported.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii warned that a tsunami was generated, but it later said the waves were less than 8 inches in height and the warning was canceled after about an hour.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre also issued a tsunami alert for eastern Australia that was still in effect late Wednesday.

Australian emergency services ordered the evacuation of low-lying parts of coastal towns and villages along Lord Howe Island, BNONews reported.

"People are strongly advised to go to higher ground, at least ten metres above sea level, or if possible move at least one kilometre away from all beaches and the water's edge of harbours and coastal estuaries," BNONews quoted NSW State Emergency Service.

New Zealand, however, was given the all-clear.

"All available New Zealand and international data about the earthquake and sea levels showed that there is no tsunami threat to New Zealand," said John Hamilton, director of the Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management.

The quake's epicenter was 100 miles west of Invercargill, off the west coast of New Zealand's South Island at a depth of 21 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It hit at 0922 GMT on Wednesday.

The quake was felt widely across South Island. Police in the town of Tuatapere said they had reports of minor cracks in buildings and stock falling from supermarket shelves.

However, no reports of serious damage or injuries were received, police said.

Scientists with New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences were working with their U.S. counterparts late Wednesday to reconcile their readings with those taken overseas. The quake was reported locally at 6.6 magnitude before reports from the U.S. listed it at 7.8 magnitude and as high as 8.2.

"We've had big differences in the measurements of the quake, ranging from 6.6 by GNS Science, to 8.2 by a tsunami warning center in Hawaii. We're issuing a precautionary message," Vince Cholewa, an emergency management spokesman in Wellington, told the domestic news agency NZPA.

Scientists in New Zealand reported aftershocks, the first of 6.1 magnitude occurring 19 minutes after the main temblor.

New Zealand sits above an area of the Earth's crust where the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates collide and records more than 14,000 earthquakes a year, though only about 150 are felt by residents. Fewer than 10 temblors a year do any damage.

More on this earthquake from the USGS

Click for Australian coverage from News.com.au.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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