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Tsunami threat passes in South Pacific after magnitude 7.7 quake off New Caledonia

(Reuters) -The risk of tsunami waves across the South Pacific has passed and national warnings downgraded following a 7.7 magnitude earthquake on Friday southeast of the Loyalty Islands in the French territory of New Caledonia.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) said the tsunami threat had largely passed on Friday afternoon.

Earlier it had warned about the possibility of waves ranging up to 1 metre above the tide level across 26 locations in the South Pacific.

Vanuatu retracted a warning to seek higher ground and said a destructive tsunami is no longer expected, according to the Vanuatu Meteorology & Geo-Hazards Department website.

In the aftermath of the quake, Australia's meteorology bureau issued a tsunami threat for Lord Howe Island off its east coast and warned the roughly 450 inhabitants to leave the water's edge due to waves and strong currents.

This was later downgraded to a marine warning.

"We haven't moved to higher ground and we're probably not going to," said Damien Ball of the Thompsons General Store on Lord Howe Islands. "We've been through this numerous times before and nothing ever comes of it."

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake hit at a depth of about 38 km (24 miles).

(Reporting by Mrinmay Dey in Bengaluru, Lewis Jackson in Sydney and Lucy Craymer in Wellington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Himani Sarkar and Michael Perry)