WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A strong magnitude 6.3 earthquake hit near the South Pacific kingdom of Tonga on Saturday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, but no tsunami alert was issued and there were no immediate reports of injury or damage.
The quake, centered 60 miles southwest of the capital, Nuku'alofa, was a shallow 6 miles below the ocean's surface, the agency said.
It hit as Tonga — a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti — braced for tropical cyclone Rene, currently a Category 3 cyclone packing winds up to up to 93 miles an hour. On its present track, the storm is gathering strength and could pass close to the islands that are home to more than 100,000 people.
In September, nine people in Tonga were killed on the northern island of Nuiatoputapu by a tsunami spawned by an earthquake off Samoa. The tsunami killed 183 people in Samoa and another 34 in American Samoa.
The most recent local temblor was a powerful 6.8 magnitude quake that struck about 75 miles out to sea off Nuku'alofa on Nov. 25, sending panicked residents into the streets at night. There was no serious damage or injuries.
Tonga is part of the Pacific "ring of fire," a series of rifts in the earth's surface and volcanoes that reach from Chile through Alaska and down the western Pacific to south of the islands state.