NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga -- A powerful earthquake struck early today near the South Pacific nation of Tonga, prompting tsunami warnings for as far away as Fiji and New Zealand. But the warning never reached Tonga -- and was lifted after a tsunami of less than 2 feet.
There were no reports of injuries from the quake or tsunami, and a Tongan official said a few broken windows were the extent of the damage. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu lifted its warning for all areas within two hours of the 4:26 a.m. earthquake.
The earthquake, classified by the US Geological Survey as major with a magnitude of 7.9, struck about 95 miles south of Neiafu, Tonga, and 1,340 miles north-northeast of Auckland, New Zealand. It occurred 20 miles beneath the sea floor.
But nearly 18 months after a tsunami in the Indian Ocean left at least 216,000 people dead or missing, sparking international calls for a better warning system, the people of Tonga got little or no notice of the quake, because of a power outage on the island.
The failure of the warning plan raised troubling questions about protections in place for inhabitants of the islands scattered thousands of miles across the earthquake-prone region.
Gerard Fryer, acting director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said the center needs to work with Tonga to correct the problem.