New Zealand downgraded a tsunami warning Friday, allowing thousands who evacuated coastal areas in the north of its North Island to return home.
"GNS Science has advised that the largest waves have now passed, and therefore the threat level is now downgraded to a Beach and Marine threat for all areas which were previously under Land and Marine threat," the National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement. "All people who evacuated can now return."
The nation had been on Tsunami alert all morning after a powerful magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck near the Kermadec Islands. It was the third large quake recorded north of New Zealand in a matter of hours. The country sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanic and seismic activity that rings the Pacific Ocean.
People near the coast in northern areas of the North Island were ordered to move immediately to the nearest high ground or as far inland as possible, as strong currents and unpredictable surges near the shore were expected for several hours.
A magnitude 7.1 quake off New Zealand's east coast was widely felt around the North Island overnight. It was followed by a magnitude 7.4 near the Kermadecs that triggered a tsunami warning. That was later canceled, but the third, larger quake prompted a new warning.
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