March 4 (UPI) -- Officials in New Zealand on Friday downgraded a tsunami warning after multiple powerful earthquakes struck off the coast earlier in the day.
The largest, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake, was recorded around 8:30 a.m. near the Kermadec Islands Region, prompting a land and marine tsunami threat, the New Zealand National Emergency Management Agency said.
The Kermadec Islands are located 500 miles to 620 miles northeast of New Zealand's North Island. Tsunami warnings were issued on the island's western coast from Cape Reinga to Ahipara and on the eastern coast from Cape Reinga to Whangarei, from Matata to Tolga Bay -- including Whakatane and Opotiki -- and Great Barrier Island
The agency later downgraded the threat from a "land and marine threat" to a "beach and marine threat" permitting evacuated residents to return to their homes.
Officials warned, however, that strong currents and unpredictable surges could continue for multiple hours, urging people to avoid beaches, shores and rivers.
Around 6:40 a.m., a 7.3-magnitude quake struck about 90 miles east of the Bay of Plenty, in the Pacific Ocean off the country's eastern coastline, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter was located about 260 miles southeast of Auckland.
New Zealand's National Emergency Management Agency issued a tsunami warning that spanned from Cape Runway to Tolaga Bay and advised residents to evacuate.
NEMA said evacuation orders override COVID-19 restrictions in affected areas, and that residents should leave if advised to do so.
Several aftershocks with magnitudes between 5.3 and 4.5 followed the initial earthquake, the USGS said.