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Australian east coast on tsunami alert after NZ earthquake

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07/15/2009 11:36 AM
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Australian east coast on tsunami alert after NZ earthquake
A SERIES of small tsunamis last night hit Australia's east coast following a powerful earthquake in New Zealand which triggered the nation's tsunami alert system.

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre put coastal areas of NSW, Tasmania and Victoria as well as Lord Howe and Norfolk islands on tsunami alert at 8.17pm AEST.

However, the centre did not expect any major inundation to land and issued the lesser "marine'' version, with people being urged to stay out of the water and away from low-lying areas.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said small tsunamis, followed by unusual current movements, were detected at Spring Bay in southern Tasmania at 10.05pm and Port Kembla, south of Sydney, at 10.06pm.

A bureau spokesman said it was likely there would be more waves or "unusual currents'' early today.

"Tsunami waves are more powerful than the same size beach waves, with the first wave not necessarily being the largest.''

On Lord Howe Island residents fled to higher ground and police helped locals move their cars
from the coast.

Geoscience Australia, which compiles data and issues warnings jointly with the Bureau of Meteorology, said it was pleased the early warning system had worked well.

The US Geological Survey said the epicentre of the earthquake at 7.22pm was about 160km west of the city of Invercargill, on the South Island, at a depth of 33km and measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale.

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

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre, which said sea levels were about 20cm (eight inches) above normal near the epicentre, reported that a low-level tsunami was generated.

Police in the South Island town of Tuatapere said there had been reports of minor cracks in buildings and stock falling from supermarket shelves, but there were no immediate reports of serious damage or injuries.

The quake, which lasted about a minute, was felt across the South Island with reports of Queenstown diners fleeing restaurants.

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.

Australia began issuing tsunami alerts in the wake of the devastating Boxing Day 2004 tsunami which killed more than 300,000 across Asia and destroyed millions of homes.

"All the systems were working very well tonight and we're very pleased about that,'' Geoscience Australia spokesman Chris Thompson said.

"There was a real scenario where parts of the coast could have been affected and this proves the warning system we have in place works well.''

[link to www.theaustralian.news.com.au]