Powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake hits off Papau New Guinea

People living along Papua New Guinea's coastline fled to higher ground on Saturday after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck east of the Pacific nation, triggering a tsunami warning for parts of its archipelago.

A couple of hours after the quake, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) said the threat had largely passed, although it said government agencies should continue to monitor coastal tides.

"Based on all available data ... the tsunami threat from this earthquake has now passed," the PTWC said in an updated and final alert after the quake, which struck 157 km (98 miles) east of Rabaul.

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Aftermath of New Zealand earthquake

Evacuees formerly stranded in the earthquake-affected town of Kaikoura stand alongside the helicopter that brought them to the town of Woodend, near Christchurch, New Zealand, November 16, 2016.

(REUTERS/Lincoln Feast)

Earthquake damage to State Highway 1 is seen south of Kaikoura on November 16, 2016. Rescue efforts after a devastating earthquake in New Zealand intensified on November 16 as a fleet of international warships began arriving in the disaster zone.

(MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images)

A huge dam formed by a landslide as a result of the 7.5 earthquake, on the Clarence River north of Kaikoura on November 14, 2016 in New Zealand. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck 20km south-east of Hanmer Springs and triggered tsunami warnings for many coastal areas.

(Photo by Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images)

Evacuees formerly stranded in the earthquake-affected town of Kaikoura stand alongside the helicopter that brought them to the town of Woodend, near Christchurch, New Zealand November 16, 2016.

(REUTERS/Lincoln Feast)

A buried vehicle tunne on State Highway 1 from the November 14 earthquake is seen south of Kaikoura on November 16, 2016. Rescue efforts after a devastating earthquake in New Zealand intensified on November 16 as a fleet of international warships began arriving in the disaster zone.

(MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images)

A damaged car is towed by a breakdown mechanic at the scene where a man crashed his car into the sea on November 16, 2016 in Christchurch, New Zealand. A medical incident is to believed to have caused a man to drive his car off road, into the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. He is reported to be in hospital and no others were involved in the incident.

(Photo by KAI SCHWOERER/Getty Images)

Local residents Chris and Viv Young look at damage caused by an earthquake along State Highway One, south of the township of Blenheim on New Zealand's South Island, November 14, 2016.

(REUTERS/Anthony Phelps)

Products lie on the ground in a chemist after an earthquake on November 14, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck 20km south-east of Hanmer Springs and triggered tsunami warnings for many coastal areas.

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Waiwhetu Stream swells with flood water after a bout of severe weather on November 15, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. Wellington has been hit by torrential rain and gale-forced winds in the wake of the earthquakes, which killed two people.

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

A strong after-shock brings a huge slip tumbling down a Valley in the Kaikoura Range on November 14, 2016 in New Zealand. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck 20km south-east of Hanmer Springs and triggered tsunami warnings for many coastal areas.

(Photo by Mark Mitchell - Pool/Getty Images)

The Waiau Lodge Hotel, in Waiau, 120 kms north of Christchurch, shows damage in the aftermath of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on November 14, 2016 in Waiau, New Zealand. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck 20km south-east of Hanmer Springs and triggered tsunami warnings for many coastal areas.

(Photo by Matias Delacroix/Getty Images)

The Waiau Lodge Hotel, in Waiau, 120 kms north of Christchurch, shows damage in the aftermath of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on November 14, 2016 in Waiau, New Zealand. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck 20km south-east of Hanmer Springs and triggered tsunami warnings for many coastal areas.

(Photo by Matias Delacroix/Getty Images)

Rotherham Road, 110 kms north of Christchurch, shows damage and land slip in the aftermath of a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on November 14, 2016 in Waiau, New Zealand. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck 20km south-east of Hanmer Springs and triggered tsunami warnings for many coastal areas.

(Photo by Matias Delacroix/Getty Images)

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The major tremor initially triggered a more widespread tsunami warning for the Pacific region, including Indonesia and the Solomon Islands, but that was pulled back after the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) downgraded the magnitude slightly from 8. It also revised the depth of the tremor to 103.2 km from its original estimate of 73 kms.

Many residents in the northern parts of the autonomous region of Bougainville sought higher ground amid warnings that tsunami waves were possible.

"The town residents have vacated the whole place; those in the villages live higher up, so they're ok, it's just those near the coast," local resident Christabel Biasu told Reuters by phone.

Quakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific's "Ring of Fire", a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties after Saturday's major tremor.

A nurse at Buka General Hospital in Bougainville said the quake was so strong it felt like the building she was sleeping in would topple. She said patients were being moved a few kilometers to higher ground.

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"We have about 16 beds," she told Reuters by phone, declining to give her name. "Most of them are already a suburb up."

The small Pacific nation of Nauru, where one of Australia's offshore immigration detention centers is located, had a tsunami warning in place, according to the official government Twitter account.

Residents in other parts of Papua New Guinea, including the capital of Port Moresby and Kavieng in the northern tip of New Ireland island, said they had not felt the quake, and no evacuation plans were in place.

New Zealand also canceled an earlier tsunami warning.

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