The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on the Hawaiian island of Oahu has now canceled the tsunami warning it issued for nearby Pacific islands and the tsunami watch for Hawaii and other islands farther from the epicenter.
Dangerous currents may still impact the Hawaiian Islands today, said the warning center.
"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated," the warning center said in an earlier statement at 7:48 am Hawaii time. Three hours and 36 minutes later, the warning center canceled both the tsunami warning and tsunami watch.
During the danger period, waves 1.57 meters (five feet) high hit American Samoa, while 0.7 meter waves were recorded in Samoa. Coastal residents scrambled for higher ground.
The earthquake was located 110 miles east-northeast of Hihifo, Tonga; 125 miles south-southwest of Apia, Samoa; 435 miles north-northeast of Nukualofa, Tonga; and 2,300 miles south-southwest of Honolulu.
Wave hits against a Samoan shore. (Photo by Erika Barnes)
The warning center said quakes of this magnitude have the potential to power destructive tsunami that can strike nearby coasts within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours.
The quake occurred at a depth of 33 kilometers, 21 miles, under the ocean floor.
There have been differing reports on how strong the earthquake is. It was originally designated at magnitude-7.9. The U.S. Geological Survey worldwide earthquake report puts its strength at 8.0, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center gives its strength as 8.3.
A tsunami warning was in effect for American Samoa, Samoa, Niue, Wallis-Futuna, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Kermadec Islands, Howland-Baker, Jarvis Island, New Zealand, French Polynesia and Palmyra Atoll.
Hawaii was listed as under a tsunami watch along with Vanuatu, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Johnston Atoll, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Papua New Guinea, Pohnpeo, Wake Island, Pitcairn Island and Midway.
The State Civil Defense office told Hawaii residents to check their emergency supplies and be on alert for siren evacuation warnings.
They can log on to the State Civil Defense website at www.scd.hawaii.gov to see if they are in an evacuation zone, said spokesman Ray Lovell.
The USGS said the region was struck by a 5.6 magnitude quake around 20 minutes after the first.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.