Tsunami alert after Vanuatu earthquake

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An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.2 rattled the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu today, triggering a tsunami warning for the area, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of damage.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii issued a tsunami alert for Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.

It said the quake had the potential to generate a destructive tsunami which could strike coastlines in the region within minutes to hours.

The warning centre said it was not known if a tsunami was generated.

The US Geological Survey said the quake was centred 300 miles (485km) north-west of the capital, Port Vila, at a depth of 22 miles (36km).

Authorities in Vanuatu said they were checking for information on both the quake and the regional tsunami alert.

"We're expecting to issue an alert for any tsunami threat shortly, but we have no report of a tsunami from Luganville," said the director of Vanuatu's Meteorological Office, who only gave his name as Salesa. Luganville is the island closest to the quake's epicentre.

He said his office was assessing the information from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and working with police to gather more information.

"We have no information yet and no sign of any tsunami," police spokesman Smith Wuwue said from Port Vila on the island of Efate.