A wave measuring up to 1m is expected to hit parts of the New Zealand coast tonight, giving cause for warning for boaties and swimmers.
The wave was generated following a magnitude 8.0 earthquake that hit east of the Solomon Islands this afternoon, destroying at least three villages there.
The quake was a shallow 5.8km deep and the epicentre was 347km east of Kira Kira in the Solomon Islands. Several large aftershocks, ranging between 5.2 to 6.6 in magnitude, have hit since the initial quake.
There were early fears for a large tsunami that could affect other countries in the region.
A "warning" by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre was cancelled just before 5pm, although New Zealand authorities are still urging care.
The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management has issued a national advisory for tsunami potential marine and beach threat.
Marlborough and Nelson-Tasman are included in the alert, along with Gisborne, Bay of Plenty, Auckland, North Cape, Waikato, Taranaki, Manawatu-Wanganui, Kapiti, West Coast, Milford, Dunedin and Chatham Islands.
People in coastal areas of these regions are advised to:
1. Stay out of the water (sea, rivers and estuaries, including boating activities)
2. Stay off beaches and shore areas
3. Do not go sightseeing
4. Share this information with family, neighbours and friends
5. Listen to the radio or TV for updates6. Follow instructions of civil defence authorities.
Kaikoura and the Wellington-Wairarapa coasts are not included in the alert.
Marlborough District Council emergency service co-ordinator Mark Wheeler said Marlborough was generally sheltered by the North Island from Pacific tsunamis but the council was monitoring the situation.
Marlborough boaties have been warned to look out for unusual tidal movements during the next day, following the tsunami warning caused by an earthquake off the Solomon Islands.
Maritime officer Dave Baker said shallow areas of the Marlborough Sounds and places such as Port Underwood could be affected by the potential tsunami, although it was expected to be only about 80cm by the time it reached Marlborough.
He said the affects were more likely to be ''unusual tidal movements'' affecting berthed or moored ships and boats rather than any wave effects at Tory Channel.
A navigational warning had been issued on boaties on VHF marine radio and through the Port of Marlborough channel in Picton to ensure people were aware of the possible water movements.
A Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management spokesman said historical comparisons suggested any waves were are likely to be greatest in the central west coast of New Zealand, between Hokitika and New Plymouth.
The first waves would be small and would hit North Cape shortly after 6pm, travelling south and hitting Westport about 8.30pm. The largest waves would hit between two and eight hours later.
In many areas the main concern was likely to come from strong harbour currents and surges in river mouths.
Director of Civil Defence John Hamilton, speaking from the bunker at Parliament this afternoon, said there was unlikely to be damage to buildings or property due to the wave.
He said however, that people near the water, particularly swimmers or those in boats, needed to be cautious.
"You just don't know [what could happen] with these things travelling over a long distance."
"If you're in the water, particularly in restricted coastal areas, you need to be wary of what might happen."
He said in areas like Tutukaka, in Northland, had experienced surges that had damaged boats and yachts in situations like this before.
Likewise, he urged swimmers to be careful.
"I wouldn't want to see people being swept out [to sea]."
"This is not insignificant but there is not going to be damage to building and things like that."
Hamilton said Northland needed to be alert, as these areas would be hit first. Other areas that may be affected were the Bay of Plenty, the east coast and the west coast including the South Island.
Civil Defence said its experts and scientific advisers were continuing to assess the situation to determine the severity of the threat to New Zealand.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said the ministry was aware of the tsunami warning in place for much of the Pacific.
"Our posts are monitoring the situation and the High Commission in the Solomon Islands has issued an advisory to
New Zealanders registered with us as being there on safe travel website."
Hundreds of people in Fiji's capital, Suva, have fled the coastal areas. There are reported to be chaotic scenes of traffic jams in the city as people head away from the sea front. All government offices have closed.
A manager at the Novotel Hotel in Nadi said students in Fiji were sent home from school at the advice of the Fijian Education Ministry after the threat was announced.
The manager said guests would remain in the hotel, which is located near the airport, until further information was released.
"We are in the safest location," he said.
"At this point and time we don't want to create panic."
A tsunami warning was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii shortly before 2.30pm and was followed up by a second advisory nearly half an hour later saying sea level readings indicated a tsunami had been generated. It is believed to have been about 1m high.
"It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts."
Walter Nalangu from the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation said information was still coming through, however it was believed there had been a wave generated and it was hitting the east of the islands.
Nalungu said the earthquake had been felt by those on the islands when it hit.
The Solomon Islands' National Disaster Management office advised those living in low-lying areas, especially Makira and Malaita, to move to higher ground.
The media liaison officer for the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) Johnson Honimae, in Honiara, said the earthquake had happened during most people's lunch hour. The city had put on buses to take residents to higher ground.
"I didn't feel the earthquake. But I got a text from my colleague about the tsunami warning. Our office is right on the waterfront so I took a bus up to my house, which is higher," Honimae said.
"People have been rushing around, boarding buses or whatever means of transport that they can take to somewhere safe. We're lucky because there is a hill not far from the city so most people can go there."
There was still very limited information about the tsunami threat, Honimae said.
In April 2007, more than 50 people were killed and thousands lost their homes when a magnitude 8.1 quake hit the western Solomon Islands, sending waves crashing into coastal villages.
The Solomons comprise more than 200 islands with a population of about 552,000 people.
They lie on the "Ring of Fire" - an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific Rim and where about 90 per cent of the world's quakes occur.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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