6 Feb 2013

Five killed in Solomons quake, tsunami

10:47 pm on 6 February 2013

At least five people have died following an earthquake and tsunami that struck Solomon Islands..

The 8.0-magnitude quake caused major damage to several villages in the Santa Cruz islands and triggered a tsunami warning across the South Pacific.

The BBC reports a 0.9m tsunami swamped the airport near the provincial capital, Lata, on the biggest island, Santa Cruz or Nendo.

The worst of the damage was said to have been on the western coast of Santa Cruz, with one report putting the waves there at 1.5m.

The quake was centred in the islands (340km east of Kirakira and about 600km from Honiara), at a depth of 28.7km at 12.27 UTC.

The magnitude puts it as a "great" earthquake or the highest category.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a tsunami warning and a tsunami watch for the region but later cancelled it.

The United States Geological Survey has recorded at least 23 aftershocks with a magnitude of between 5.0 and 6.6 near the islands.

The director of nursing at Lata Hospital, Augustine Pilve, says he can confirm that five people have died.

He says the hospital is treating others with injuries and more casualties are expected.

Mr Pilve says he believes hundreds of people around Lata may have been affected by the tsunami.

Solomon Islands police commander John Lansley told the ABC people are missing and there are casualties but he hopes they will be a minimal number.

He says a surge wave affected three or four villages.

Luke Taula, a fisheries officer in Lata, told the ABC the tsunami arrived in small tidal surges rather than as one large wave.

"We have small waves come in, then go out again, then come back in. The waves reached the airport terminal," he said.

He said the worst damage would be to villages on the western side of a point that protects the main township.

About 5000 people live in and around the town but the area was deserted as people fled to higher ground, he said.

Small tsunami

The ABC reports an 11cm wave hit Vanuatu, while a tsunami of about 50cm reportedly hit New Caledonia.

A wave was also expected to hit Papua New Guinea and Japan but it would not be destructive, the ABC said. Australia's Manus Island detention centre in PNG was evacuated as a precaution.

Tsunami warnings, watches

The tsunami warning was issued for Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji and Wallis and Futuna.

A tsunami watch was issued for the rest of the South Pacific nations and islands, including Australia, New Zealand (including the Kermadec islands) and Indonesia.

Other nations and islands put on watch were the Marshall Islands, Howland and Baker, Pohnpei, Tokelau, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Australia, Niue, Cook Islands, Wake Island, Chuuk, Jarvis Island, Guam, Northern Marianas, Palmyra Island, Yap, Johnston Island, Minamitorishima and Belau.

In 2007, a tsunami following an 8.1-magnitude earthquake killed at least 52 people in the Solomons and left thousands homeless.