NBC News and news services
updated 3/19/2009 6:17:04 PM ET 2009-03-19T22:17:04

A strong 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck Friday near Tonga, generating a tsunami in the South Pacific, officials said. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage, and the country's police commander hours later said the tsunami warning was canceled.

The quake struck about 130 miles south-southeast of the Tongan capital of Nuku'Alofa at a depth of 6.2 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for Tonga and neighboring islands, and reported that sea level readings confirmed that a potentially destructive tsunami wave was generated.

The center also advised that some coastal areas of Hawaii could see a rise in sea level and strong currents lasting up to several hours.

Radio stations in Tonga broadcast tsunami warnings, but police and residents said no big wave had been reported.

By midmorning, police commander Chris Kelly said the tsunami warning had been canceled.

Police spokesman Niua Kama said residents did not appear to take the warning seriously.

"People are out on the roads, laughing at the warning," he told The Associated Press.

Resident Dana Stephenson said the quake started with "deep rumblings ... then side-to-side movement which seemed to go on forever, but I guess was about 40 seconds — which is long enough."

"We're shaken but not stirred," she added.

New Zealand seismologist Craig Miller said "a long, low rolling motion" from the quake was reported by residents on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island — more than 1,875 miles from the epicenter.

An undersea volcano has been erupting for days near Tonga, shooting smoke, steam and ash thousands of feet into the sky above the South Pacific ocean. It's not known if the quake was related to the volcanic action.

Authorities said the eruption does not pose any danger to islanders at this stage, and there have been no reports of fish or other animals being affected.

Tonga, a 170-island archipelago about halfway between Australia and Tahiti, is part of the Pacific "ring of fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones stretching from Chile in South America through Alaska and down through Vanuatu to Tonga.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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