Five aftershocks followed the first long and strong jolt that struck 23 kilometres west-north-west of Port Olry at a depth of about 28 kilometres, the US Geological Survey said.
Tsunami alerts had been issued but were lifted soon after.
Property owner in Sanma Province, Lily Lui said she could barely stand when she was trying to escape.
"It's like somebody digging out the house and trying to move the house from where it is placed so I was like, what's going on?
"When I woke up, I found everything lying down on the floor and I was rushing down the stairs trying to find a way to get out.
"Everybody was scared and ran out of the house because we are close to the sea and everybody was looking at the sea," Lui said.
It was a similar story for tourism operator, Oka Vocor Harris, who said his children all ran to him scared and cuddled him.
He then ran out to check on his customers in his bungalows.
"When the earthquake comes over, they all get around me holding me tight, it sounds like a big machine moving, heavy machine, bulldozer, it sounds like the earth is trembling," Harris said.
Both of the residents did not report any serious damage, Lui said she does have cracks in her house but nothing major.
Santo Hardware general manager Leighton Shearer and his family also felt the earthquake.
They are from New Zealand where they experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Kaikoura in New Zealand's South Island.
"It was certainly a big shake. You could hear it coming and that woke my wife.
"We managed to get under a door frame before it hit but our 13-year-old son slept through it.
"He also slept through the Kaikoura quake in 2016…it's his superpower…lol..
"We had no damage at our house apart from an extractor fan/light falling out of the ceiling of a bathroom. The pool lost a fair bit of water and a few pictures moved. There were quite a few aftershocks, reminiscent of the Kaikoura quake," Leighton Shearer said.
RNZ has tried to contact local police and emergency management but has not yet been able to get through.
Santo store in Vanuatu impacted by the earthquake. Photo: Supplied/T Malapa