VANUATU SHAKEN BY STRONG EARTHQUAKE, ONLY MINOR DAMAGE

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (March 3, 2002 – New Zealand Herald/Reuters)---A strong earthquake rocked the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu today, but initial reports revealed only minor damage and no casualties.

New Zealand's Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences said the tremor, measuring 7.0 on the open-ended Richter scale, occurred at 4:23 a.m. local time.

The Denver based U.S. Geological Survey's National Earthquake Information Center said the preliminary magnitude of the quake was 7.3 on the Richter scale.

It said the quake was about 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital, Port Vila, and about 33 km (about 20 miles) below ground level.

The quake was felt strongly in Port Vila but there were no immediate reports of injuries, New Zealand's deputy high commissioner in Vila, Elizabeth Wilson, said by telephone.

"Things were falling off shelves and smashing at home. Driving through town you can see some buildings have had windows breaking, ceilings falling in a little, that kind of thing," she said.

"At this stage it looks like minor damage, not great damage."

Vanuatu, a grouping of 80 islands across several thousand square kilometers of the South Pacific, is about 1,800 km (1,080 miles) northeast of Australia, and has a population of 193,000.

An earthquake of 7.1 magnitude and a resulting tsunami in November 1999 killed eight people on the island of Pentecost.

For additional reports from The New Zealand Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ New Zealand Herald.

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