New Zealand downgraded its tsunami warning, 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 statement, however, added that strong currents and unpredictable surges may continue for several hours, and that people should stay away from beaches, shores and rivers.
Quakes of 7.3, 7.4 and 8.1 magnitude struck near New Zealand's remote Kermadec Islands in quick succession early Friday, followed by dozens of powerful aftershocks and a slew of tsunami warnings across the Pacific.
A seismologist said that the earthquake came without any significant warning.
At least four aftershocks have been reported since the first quake, including one of magnitude 5.1.
"Hope everyone is ok out there — especially on the East Coast who would have felt the full force of that earthquake," New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Facebook.
Residents in some areas had received emergency alerts on their phones urging them to "EVACUATE NOW," as tsunami sirens rang out. Thousands headed for high ground as waves of up to three metres (11 feet) had been predicted in New Caledonia and Vanuatu, with states and territories from New Zealand to Peru, Russia to Antarctica also put on high alert. Tsunami warnings were also issued for Hawaii and American Samoa, but later stood down.
New Zealand is prone to seismic and volcanic activity because it sits at the edge of two tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate and the Australian Plate.
It is said initial smaller waves were already reported in Tonga, and small waves were also possible as far afield as Japan, Russia, Mexico and the South American coast.
Just last week, New Zealand marked the 10th anniversary of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that destroyed parts of Christchurch in the south Island, killing 185 people.