Tsunami watch issued for Hawaii after 8.1-magnitude earthquake off New Zealand

A tsunami watch was issued for the Hawaiian islands on Thursday after a string of powerful earthquakes were reported in the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand.

The largest, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake, occurred at 8:28 a.m. NZST Friday, or at 2:28 p.m. ET Thursday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter was about 600 miles northeast of the North Island, but the USGS said the quake "was strongly felt across much of New Zealand."

Officials said the 8.1-magnitude quake was "directly related" to an earlier magnitude 7.4 earthquake in the same location two hours prior.

"Both of those occurred on the subduction interface between Pacific and Australia plates," the USGS wrote on Twitter.

The 8.1-magnitude earthquake was reported northeast of New Zealand. (Credit: U.S. Geological Survey)

Some 4,600 miles across the Pacific Ocean, a tsunami watch was issued for Hawaii in response, with officials warning that the quakes may have been generated a tsunami that "could be destructive on coastal areas even far from the epicenter."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said an investigation is underway to determine the threat level. It added that if tsunami waves were to impact Hawaii, the estimated earliest arrival would be 4:35 p.m. HST Thursday — or 9:35 p.m. ET.

Officials said residents should continue to monitor news updates on television, radio and social media in the event that it is updated to a tsunami warning.

A tsunami warning was issued for New Zealand coasts, the country's emergency management agency said on Twitter.

New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency warned residents in areas ranging from the Bay of Islands down to Tolaga Bay to "move immediately" to higher ground or "as far inland as possible."

Officials said the tsunami advice overrides current COVID-19 pandemic requirements.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.