The violent quake’s epicentre was in the sea just off the northern bay of the largest island Espiritu Santo, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the archipelago’s capital Port Vila.
Kayson Pore, a 22-year-old student from the village of Hog Harbour in Espiritu Santo, said he was looking for crab on the beach with half a dozen friends when the earth shook.
“It was very huge,” Pore told AFP by telephone.
“We were right on the sea, we were looking for crab on the coast,” he said
“We ran for our lives and then we ran to our homes.”
At his home in the village of about 1,000 people, the quake had knocked objects to the ground, breaking cups in the kitchen, Pore said.
“People were moving to higher ground,” he added, for fear of a tsunami tidal wave.
But Pore said he had seen no structural damage to homes in his village.
The shallow quake hit around 11:30 pm local time (1230 GMT) around 27 kilometres (17 miles) deep, according to the US Geological Survey, which placed it about 25 kilometres from the Espiritu Santo village of Port-Olry.
People could feel the quake as far away as Port Vila, on the island of Etafe, said Natasha Joel, a receptionist at the Grand Hotel and Casino in the capital.
However, the tremor was “a bit small” there and no guests were evacuated from the hotel, she said.
A tsunami warning was initially issued for Vanuatu, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands but cancelled about an hour and a half after the quake.
“Tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to one metre above the tide level are possible for some coasts of Vanuatu,” the NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii said.
Waves smaller than 0.3 metres were possible for New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, it added.
The French embassy in Vanuatu advised people to stay away from the coasts in a post on its official Facebook page.
Residents reported on social media that there had been damage.
“A Big One!!” one person posted on Facebook. “Lots of things broken all around.”
New Zealand’s National Emergency Management Agency said there was no tsunami threat to its country.
Vanuatu is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide, and experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity.
The Solomon Islands, an island nation just north of Vanuatu, was hit in November with a 7.0-magnitude quake, though there were no reports of serious injuries or major structural damage.
In 2018, a 7.5-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami on Indonesia’s Sulawesi island left more than 4,300 people dead or missing.
Vanuatu is ranked as one of the countries most susceptible to natural disasters like earthquakes, storm damage, flooding and tsunamis, according to the annual World Risk Report.