NEW Zealanders have been told to move away from coastal areas of the North Island after three powerful earthquakes shook the region.
The national emergency agency warned of a tsunami threat with “unpredictable surges” expected along the east coast.
There were reports of chaos in some towns as hundreds of people tried to reach higher ground.
The South Pacific archipelagos of New Caledonia and Vanuatu have also been warned to prepare for dangerous waves.
Their coasts could see wave surges as high as 3m (10ft), while parts of South America – including Peru, Ecuador and Chile – were warned they could see 1m waves reaching their coasts.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said “tsunami waves have been observed”, but as yet no damage has been reported.
The three earthquakes all came during early hours at magnitudes of over seven.
The most powerful, at 8.1 magnitude, struck at around 08:30 (21:30 GMT) near the uninhabited Kermadec Islands, 1000 km (621 miles) north-east of New Zealand.
While earlier tsunami warnings had been called off, the third quake prompted the National Emergency Management Agency to send out a new alert and tsunami sirens sounded in some areas.