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“People near the coast from CAPE RUNAWAY to TOLAGA BAY should MOVE IMMEDIATELY to the nearest high ground, out of tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as possible. Do not return until an official all-clear message is given by Civil Defence," New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency tweeted.

The agency issued a tsunami warning and said coastal inundation was expected on the east coast of the North Island from Cape Runaway to Tolaga Bay. It said strong and unusual currents and unpredictable surges near the shore are expected on all other coastal areas of the North Island, the Great Barrier Island, South Island, Stewart Island and Chatham Islands.

The first waves were detected near East Cape about 3:15 a.m. New Zealand Standard Time.

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"The first wave may not be the largest. Tsunami activity will continue for several hours and the threat must be regarded as real until this warning is cancelled," the emergency management agency said.

Hundreds of people sought shelter in a school on higher ground above Hawke's Bay on the central coast of North Island, TV New Zealand reported.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center earlier had said, "Based on the preliminary earthquake parameters ... hazardous tsunami waves are possible for coasts located within 300 KM (186 miles) of the earthquake epicenter."

At least four aftershocks have been reported since the first quake, including one of magnitude 5.1, according to the USGS.

So far there have been no reports of injuries or damage.