PAPUA NEW GUINEA (CBS SF) — A magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked Papua New Guinea Thursday morning, generating a temporary tsunami alert for islands in the region.

The USGS says the quake’s epicenter was located 89 miles southwest of Panguna, Papua New Guinea at a depth of 14 miles. The quake hit at 12:10 a.m. PDT Thursday.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves of up to 3 feet were possible within 186 miles of the epicenter on the coast of Papua New Guinea.

“Hazardous tsunami waves from this earthquake are possible within 300km of the epicenter along the coasts of Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea,” the statement said.

Several hours later, the agency lifted the tsunami threat but cautioned area residents to “remain observant and exercise normal caution near the sea.”

There were no reports of damage, said Chris McKee, assistant director of the Geophysical Observatory in the capital, Port Moresby. Because the epicenter was so far offshore, the chance of serious damage on land was less likely, he said.

“The earthquake appears to have not been as big as first estimated,” McKee said. “I think the threat from that event is basically passed now. So we’ll just wait for the next one.”

Thursday’s quake was located in a different area of Papua New Guinea than the previous three temblors that rattled the region over the past week, and was therefore an unrelated event, McKee said. Still, the area has been unusually active.

“We think it’s probably something along the lines of just regional readjustment — movements in one area allow stress to be redistributed and that allows other areas to rupture,” McKee said.

Betha Lorenz, owner of Rising Sun Lodge in the town of Arawa on Bougainville Island, said the quake delivered a powerful jolt, but did not appear to have caused any damage.

“One of my neighbors … she ran down the stairs and I was laughing and she said, ‘Am I gonna live?’ and I said ‘Yeah, nothing will happen — just relax,'” Lorenz said.

When the shaking started, Lorenz ran outside, but the rumbling ended a few seconds later. Her lodge weathered the quake with no damage, and she hadn’t heard of any tsunami waves hitting the coast.

“Everyone is OK,” she said with a laugh. “We are happy.”

Papua New Guinea sits on the Ring of Fire, the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common.

COMPLETE QUAKE COVERAGE: CBS Earthquake Resource Center
This article will be updated as information warrants, and follow KPIX 5 on Twitter at @CBSSF or KCBS Radio on Twitter at @KCBSNews for updates on breaking news anytime.
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Strong earthquakes with an epicenter off the coast can trigger tsunamis, depending on the size and type of the fault movement. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center tracks earthquake data for the West Coast.
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