Strong 6.9-magnitude earthquake hits Pacific Ocean off Tonga

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A strong but deep earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.9 has struck the Pacific Ocean southwest of Tonga, U.S. seismologists say. Damage is not expected and no tsunami warnings have been issued.

The earthquake, which struck at 6:28 a.m. local time on Saturday, was centered about 438 kilomers (272 miles) southwest of Nuku’alofa, the kingdom’s capital, on the island of Tongatapu. It struck at a depth of 396 kilometers (246 miles), making it a very deep earthquake.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) put the preliminary magnitude of Saturday’s earthquake at 6.9. Because of the location and depth of the earthquake, only a very small number of people on nearby islands may have felt the earthquake.

No tsunami alerts were issued after the earthquake, which was initially measured at magnitude 6.6. “Based on all available data, there is no tsunami threat from this earthquake. No action is required,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Tonga is on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire,’ an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent and large earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions also occur frequently in the region, which is one of the most geologically active parts in the world.

Tonga, with a total population of around 104,000 people, is made up of 169 islands sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean about one-third of the way from New Zealand to Hawaii. Only thirty-nine of the islands are inhabited, but many of its residents live in structures that are vulnerable to earthquakes.

On September 29, 2009, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck 185 kilometers (115 miles) east-northeast of Hihifo on Tonga, unleashing large tsunamis that killed nearly 200 people and injured hundreds more in Tonga, American Samoa, Samoa, and other nearby island nations.

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