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Vanuatu quake prompts Pacific panic -

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SHANE MCLEOD: There's been panic in parts of the Pacific after a large earthquake struck 300
kilometres north-west of the Vanuatu island of Espiritu Santo, prompting tsunami warnings across
the region.

The quake measured 8.1 on the Richter scale and prompted concerns there would be more damaging
waves.

Schools in New Caledonia and low-lying parts of Fiji have been evacuated.

In Vanuatu, there have been reports of alarm, as in some areas the Government's been urging people
to leave coastal areas and to travel to higher ground.

Simon Santow begins our coverage.

SIMON SANTOW: After last week's devastation in Samoa and other Pacific islands there was no
question that authorities would take another large quake in the area seriously.

Seismologists put the latest earthquakes in the high sevens or even as large as 8.1, more than
enough to put tsunami alerts in place.

Marc Neil-Jones is the publisher of the Vanuatu Daily Post newspaper in the capital, Vila.

MARC NEIL-JONES: Occurred around 9.15 this morning and the shock lasted, there was more concern
over the length of the shake, which was they're estimating around a minute. There was an aftershock
which was, wasn't as powerful but they had one, another one about five minutes ago. When I was on
the phone there was another big shake which they felt was a similar size.

SIMON SANTOW: He says the reaction from some people was to panic.

Douglas Charley is from Vanuatu's Department of Geology.

He told Radio Australia that it's too early to know if there's any significant damage.

DOUGLAS CHARLEY: At this stage it's too early to say something. We had a big problem here for
communication to let people from the north, north parts of Vanuatu but we are able to communicate
via the mobile phone with other person there to warn them that there will be a tsunami and there
will be, they advise to go up to the high ground this time.

RADIO AUSTRALIA REPORTER: So you're not sure if there will a tsunami but you're worries about it?

DOUGLAS CHARLEY: Yeah, yeah because if the magnitude 8.1 and we're expecting something like it
could generate the tidal wave.

SIMON SANTOW: Newspaper publisher Marc Neil-Jones says the tsunami alert system is ineffective
anyway.

MARC NEIL-JONES: The reality is, within the south Pacific, communications in countries that are
developing are not as technically advanced as in the Western world. There is no chance that you're
going to get a tsunami waning coming out of the regional Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre and relayed
to people who are going to directly in any line of fire within the frame of time that is needed.

SIMON SANTOW: Ben Healy is the owner manager of the Deco Stop tourist lodge at Luganville on the
island of Espiritu Santo.

He estimates that several hundred tourists, mainly from Australia and New Zealand, are holidaying
on the island but he says the danger seems to have passed.

BEN HEALY: You just heard a few (inaudible) just had a second shake. This one's actually more
intense than the first, which was about three quarters of an hour ago. There's no damage here,
again, where we are.

SIMON SANTOW: Your hotel or lodge is built on fairly firm foundations?

BEN HEALY: Yeah we are, yup we're about elevated probably a few hundred feet about sea level on
quite a solid coral base overlooking the Segond Channel, out over towards Aore island. We've got
probably a dozen, probably two dozen people coming up here at the moment just as a precaution.

SIMON SANTOW: When the quake struck, how did the word get out about a tsunami warning and the size
of the earthquake?

BEN HEALY: Yeah I'm not actually quite sure how the word got out. As I felt the shake I got onto a
(inaudible) based internet site and got the information and then I only heard the tsunami warning
as people have been coming up to the Deco Stop saying that the warning had continued but I haven't
heard it on radio or anything like that.

SIMON SANTOW: And is there a range of geography? Do you have some reasonably high parts like where
you are as well as the coastal areas or are most people living around the coast?

BEN HEALY: Um no there's a lot of elevated land, especially up on the west coast, which is the
remotest part of the island. Through the centre of the island it's quite elevated but tends to be
relatively flat up to the western area. But most of the population don't centre around the town and
then up the east coast, down on the sort of waterfront area.

SHANE MCLEOD: Ben Healy, the owner of the Deco Stop tourist lodge in Luganville on the Vanuatu
island of Espiritu Santo, speaking there with our reporter Simon Santow.