Deadly tsunami hits Solomon Islands

 

A powerful earthquake off the Solomon Islands has generated a tsunami that damaged dozens of homes and reportedly killed several people in the South Pacific island chain.

Solomons officials said two 5ft waves hit the western side of Santa Cruz Island, damaging between 70 and 80 homes and properties, said George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister.

Many villagers had headed to higher ground as a precaution, Mr Herming said.

Solomon Islands police commissioner John Lansley said local patrols reported that several people were presumed dead, although the reports were still being verified.

"Sadly, we believe some people have lost their lives," he said. "At the moment we potentially know of four, but there may of course be more."

One of the people presumed dead was fishing in a canoe when the first wave hit, sweeping him out to sea, Mr Herming said. Officials were searching for his body.

Another woman was believed to have drowned when the water rushed into her village, he added.

Four villages on Santa Cruz were impacted by the waves, with two suffering severe damage, Mr Lansley said. Other areas of the Solomons did not appear to have been seriously affected, and authorities cancelled warnings for tsunamis on more distant coasts.

Disaster officials were struggling to reach the remote area after the tsunami flooded the air strip at the nearest airport and left it littered with debris.

The tsunami formed after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck near the town of Lata, on Santa Cruz in Temotu province, the easternmost province of the Solomons, about a three-hour flight from the capital, Honiara.

Temotu has a population of around 30,000 people.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said a tsunami of about 3ft was measured in Lata Wharf. Smaller waves were recorded in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

Richard Dapo, a school principal on an island near Santa Cruz, said he heard the waves had swamped some smaller islands, although he was not aware of any deaths or serious injuries at this point.

In Honiara, the warnings prompted residents to flee for higher ground.

Atenia Tahu, who works for the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation in Honiara, said most people were remaining calm.

"People around the coast and in the capital are ringing in and trying to get information from us and the National Disaster Office and are slowly moving up to higher ground," Mr Tahu said. "But panic? No, no, no, people are not panicking."

Rooney Jagilly, the medical superintendent at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara, said the hospital asked about half its 200 patients to leave and stay with family or friends as a precautionary measure because the hospital is near the shoreline. Those patients who were not mobile enough to move stayed, but the hospital remained ready to evacuate them.

Dr Jagilly said there had been no flooding and he hoped the hospital would return to normal tomorrow. He said his staff were ready to mobilise to Santa Cruz because the small hospital there has no doctor after the previous one recently died.

An official at the disaster management office in Vanuatu said there were no reports of damage or injuries there.

More than 50 people were killed and thousands lost their homes in April 2007 when a magnitude 8.1 quake hit the western Solomon Islands, sending waves crashing into coastal villages.

The Solomons comprise more than 200 islands with a population of about 552,000 people. They lie on the "Ring of Fire" - an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific Rim, where about 90% of the world's quakes occur.

The US Geological Survey said today's quake struck 50 miles west of Lata, at a depth of 3.6 miles.

AP

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