Updated at 3:36 a.m. ET
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center posted its dire warning just minutes after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck undersea in the South Pacific: Given the temblor’s location, and its shallow depth of 6 miles, Vanuatu and the French territory of New Caledonia risked being right in the cross-hairs of possible “hazardous tsunami waves.”
More than three hours later, local officials could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
“Observations and field surveys confirm that the intensity of the tsunami is decreasing, and that it no longer poses a major risk to the population,” the Directorate for Civil Protection and Risk Management of New Caledonia, or DSCGR, told local residents on Wednesday evening local time.
The PTWC echoed that sentiment, announcing that the tsunami threat in the region had “largely passed,” though the center warned that “minor sea level fluctuations up to 0.3 m [about 1 foot] may continue over the next few hours.”
The news offered a welcome ending to a span that opened with an ominous rumble. Locals in New Caledonia told Agence France-Presse that they could feel their office buildings shake — followed quickly by the wailing of alert sirens on certain islands.
The quake hit about 100 miles southeast of the Loyalty Islands, a chain that’s considered part of New Caledonia. The PTWC noted that tsunami waves were possible for any region within a 620-mile range of the earthquake’s epicenter.
So, emergency officials ordered residents in both New Caledonia and the independent country of Vanuatu to evacuate immediately to high ground — but luckily, it appears that the waves ultimately did little harm.
“The good news is, we have had no injuries or damage,” Oliver Ciry, a DSCGR spokesman, told Reuters on Wednesday.
And though “there were reports of Tsunami waves observed along the coastal areas of Aneityum,” an island in the archipelago nation of Vanuatu, the country’s Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department has also announced that the threat “has now passed.” The agency delivered an all-clear for evacuees to return to their homes.
Authorities in both New Caledonia and Vanuatu have advised residents that, though the threat is diminished, they should remain vigilant in the coming hours in case the situation unexpectedly changes.