Frighteningly intense tremors hit town of Rabaul for five minutes, but no injuries or major damage reported

A picture released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a shakemap of the region (white cross) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where the earthquake occured .

A powerful earthquake rattled the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea on Monday, generating a small tsunami and frightening locals near the epicentre, but prompting no reports of damage or injuries.

A tsunami of half a meter (1.5ft) was measured in the harbor of Rabaul, a town near the epicentre of the magnitude-7.7 earthquake, said Martin Mose, acting director for Papua New Guinea’s national disaster centre. The quake struck at a depth of 40 miles (65km), about 30 miles south-east of the town of Kokopo, near Rabaul, in north-eastern Papua New Guinea, the US Geological Survey reported.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre had warned that tsunami waves up to three metres could strike parts of Papua New Guinea, and waves of less than 0.3 metres could hit other Pacific countries, as far north as Russia. The centre lifted the warning a few hours later, after reporting a 3cm tsunami wave was measured at a wharf in the Solomon Islands, about 280 miles from the epicentre.

In Rabaul, residents noticed the sea level rose slightly, causing ocean water to flood the parking lot of a shopping centre near the beach, said Mika Tuvi, an employee at the Rabaul Hotel. “But nothing beyond that no damage caused,” she said.

When the quake struck, guests and workers at the hotel fled outside, fearing the building would collapse, Tuvi said. The tremors, which lasted for about 5 minutes, were frightening in their intensity, but the hotel withstood the shaking, she said.

Officials in the capital, Port Moresby, were working to contact their counterparts in the outer provinces, but hours after the quake, there still had been no reports of damage or injuries, said Mose, of the national disaster center. He said he was confident the nation had escaped major catastrophe.

The quake caused strong shaking and knocked items off shelves in Kokopo, and was felt 500 miles away in Port Moresby, said Chris McKee, assistant director of the Geophysical Observatory in Port Moresby.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea. The country lies on the “Ring of Fire” an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim.