WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Three powerful earthquakes rocked the South Pacific near the Vanuatu archipelago today, generating a small tsunami just over a week after a massive wave killed 178 people in the Samoas and Tonga.
There were no immediate reports of damage, and all tsunami warnings and watches for the Pacific were canceled two hours after they were first issued.
The warnings caused thousands of residents to flee to higher ground in at least three Pacific islands.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said sea-level readings indicated a tiny tsunami formed after a quake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck 183 miles northwest of the Vanuatu island of Santo, and 354 miles northwest of the capital of Port Vila, at a depth of 21 miles.
Just 15 minutes later a second quake with a magnitude of 7.3 hit at the same depth but 21 miles farther north of Santo and Port Vila. A third of magnitude 7.1 was recorded nearly an hour later, 175 miles northwest of Santo at a depth of 9 miles. Vanuatu, a chain of 83 islands, lies just over 1,400 miles northeast of Sydney.
In Samoa, where at least 137 were killed in the Sept. 29 tsunami, the alerts today caused thousands of people to flee AP reporter Keni Lesa said from the capital, Apia.
"Thousands just dropped everything — people just ran for it," he said from the center of the city shortly after the alert was canceled. "The word tsunami is a scary word here right now."
Also this morning, the U.S. Geological Survey reported a strong earthquake struck south of the Philippines. It had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7.