New Zealand tsunami warning issued as thousands told to evacuate following powerful earthquake




The earthquake was felt across New Zealand
The earthquake was felt across New Zealand's North Island  

A tsunami warning has been issued after a severe earthquake hit off the coast of New Zealand on Friday.

Officials confirmed the magnitude 7.3 quake could cause coastal flooding on the country's North Island between Cape Runaway and Tolaga Bay.

Those in affected areas have been urged to leave coastal areas immediately and move to higher ground.

GeoNet said the quake at 2.27am was at a depth of 94 km (58 miles).

More than 60,000 people reported feeling it, with 282 people describing the shaking as "severe" and 75 saying it was "extreme". Most others described it as light.

Waves were first detected on the East Cape at 3.15am.

"Strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges near the shore are expected in all other coastal areas of the North Island, Great Barrier Island, the South Island, Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands," a statement on the GeoNet site said.

"The severity of currents and surges will vary within a particular coastal area and over the period this warning is in effect," the site said.

"The first wave may not be the largest. Tsunami activity will continue for several hours and the threat must be regarded as real until this warning is cancelled."

The closest major city to the epicentre is Gisborne, with a population of about 35,500 residents.

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz said many of people have already left their homes for higher ground.

There are are no reports of casualties or serious damage.

"Hope everyone is ok out there - especially on the East Coast who would have felt the full force of that earthquake," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern posted on Instagram.

There was no tsunami threat to the capital Wellington and other regions, but civil defence authorities asked residents across the country to stay away from beaches and marine areas as there could be strong and unusual currents.

A magnitude 6.3 quake hit the city of Christchurch in 2011, killing 185 people and destroying much of its downtown.

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