Honiara, Solomon Islands - A major 8.0-magnitude earthquake was feared to have flattened villages in the Solomon Islands on Wednesday, and triggered a tsunami with destructive potential for Pacific nations' coasts, monitors said.
Tsunami watches were in effect as far afield as Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said, and New Zealand was also on guard. But monitors said there was no threat to Australia.
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck at 01h12 GMT near the Santa Cruz Islands in the Solomons, which have been hit by a series of strong tremors over the past week, at a depth of 5.8km.
A powerful aftershock of 6.4 magnitude was also recorded.
“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated,” the Hawaii-based Pacific centre said. “It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts.”
Locals in the Solomons capital Honiara, 580km from the epicentre, said the quake was not felt there but some villages were destroyed, according to a hospital director.
“The information we are getting is that some villages west and south of Lata along the coast have been destroyed, although we cannot confirm this yet,” the director at Lata Hospital on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende, told AFP.
A staff member at the Solomons National Disaster Management Office said officials were concerned about the eastern province of Temotu.
“That's the province, which if it is going to have an effect, then they will be the first people to be impacted,” the official, who did not wish to be named, told AFP.
“They felt the quake.”
He said first reports from the area were that there was a tsunami wave but he had no further information.
He added that the national disaster operation centre had been activated and they were trying to contact those in Temotu province.
In 2007 a tsunami following an 8.1-magnitude earthquake killed at least 52 people in the Solomons and left thousands homeless.
The Solomon Islands are part of the “Ring of Fire”, a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific Ocean that is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
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. - Sapa-AFP