Major earthquake triggers tsunami warning and evacuations in New Zealand

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Tens of thousands of coastal residents in New Zealand, New Caledonia and Vanuatu fled for higher ground on Friday after a series of powerful earthquakes triggered small tsunami waves.

Warning sirens sounded as authorities ordered evacuations amid fears of waves of up three metres (10 feet).

"People must leave beach areas and stop all water activities, and should not pick their children up at schools to avoid creating traffic jams," emergency services spokesman Alexandre Rosignol told public radio in New Caledonia.

In New Zealand, communities along stretches of the North Island were warned to flee as tsunami alert sirens wailed after an 8.1-magnitude earthquake, which followed earlier tremors in the same region measuring 7.4 and 7.3.

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