Five dead as 8.0 quake off Solomons sparks Pacific tsunami
(AFP) A major 8.0 magnitude earthquake jolted the Solomon Islands on Wednesday with small tsunami waves buffeting Pacific coastlines, leaving at least five people dead and dozens of homes damaged or destroyed.
A quake-generated wave of just under one metre (three feet) reached parts of the Solomons, and Vanuatu and New Caledonia also reported rising sea levels, before a region-wide tsunami alert was lifted.
Sirens were heard in Fiji, locals said. "Chaos in the streets of Suva as everyone tries to avoid the tsunami!!" tweeted Ratu Nemani Tebana from the Fiji capital.
Quake-prone Japan, which was hit by a huge tsunami in March 2011 that killed more than 19,000 people, was also on edge with the national weather agency warning that a small tsunami could still come ashore.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center cancelled its regional alert for Pacific-island nations at 0350 GMT, about two and a half hours after the powerful quake struck at 0112 GMT near the Santa Cruz Islands in the Solomons.
"We can report five dead and three injured. One of the dead was a male child, three were elderly women and one an elderly man," Chris Rogers, a nurse at Lata Hospital in the Santa Cruz Islands, told AFP.
Solomons Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo's office said four villages on the Santa Cruz Islands had been hit.
"Latest reports suggest that between 60 to 70 homes have been damaged by waves crashing into at least four villages on Santa Cruz Islands," Lilo's spokesman George Herming told AFP.
"At this stage, authorities are still trying to establish the exact number and extent of damage. Communication to (the) Santa Cruz Islands is difficult due to the remoteness of the islands."
It was not immediately apparent whether the victims died in the quake or tsunami.
Solomon Islands Red Cross secretary general Joanne Zoleveke said she too had been told at least three villages were hit, with houses washed away.
"In the Solomon Islands when we talk about villages there can be anything from 10 to 30 houses," she said.
The US Geological Survey said the quake struck the Santa Cruz Islands, which have been rocked by a series of strong tremors over the past week, at a depth of 28.7 kilometres. The USGS first gave the depth at 5.8 kilometres.
Several powerful aftershocks were also recorded.
"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated," the Hawaii-based Pacific centre said after the 8.0 quake, before lifting its tsunami alert for several island nations.
Australia's earthquake monitoring agency and the Pacific centre said a tsunami wave was measured at 91 centimetres, at Lata, on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende.
Locals in the Solomons capital Honiara, 580 kilometres from the epicentre, said the quake was not felt there.
Lata Hospital director of nursing Augustine Bilve said some patients were evacuated to higher ground to prepare for any injured from the villages along the coast.
"There was continuous shaking in Lata but no damaged buildings here," he said.
"We were told that after the shaking, waves came to the villages."
In 2007 a tsunami following an 8.0-magnitude earthquake killed at least 52 people in the Solomons and left thousands homeless. The quake was so powerful that it lifted an island and pushed out its shoreline by dozens of metres.
The Solomons are part of the "Ring of Fire", a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific Ocean that is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Before it was lifted, the tsunami warning was in effect for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, and Wallis and Futuna.