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February 06, 2013

At Least 4 Dead Following Big Pacific Quake, Tsunami

by VOA News

A powerful earthquake shook islands in the South Pacific Wednesday, triggering a regional tsunami that destroyed several homes and killed at least four people.

The magnitude-8 quake hit a sparsely populated region near the Solomon Islands. A 1-meter tsunami later washed ashore on the island chain. A region-wide tsunami alert was lifted a short time later.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says four people are reported dead and two are missing in the Santa Cruz Islands of the Solomons, near the epicenter of the quake. It says "many traditional houses" were flattened when the tsunami traveled 500 meters inland.

​​Seismologist Dale Grant with the U.S. Geological Survey says the initial quake was followed by at least 14 aftershocks of magnitude-5 or bigger.

"You can say that these are major quakes in very remote areas. So we're fortunate that there are no great population centers in the nearby area," he said.

Authorities also are investigating reports that several villages were damaged or destroyed in hard-to-reach areas of the islands.

Walter Nalangu with the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation says an assessment team is heading to the region to assess the damage.

"The airport on Lata, the only airport in that part of the country, was also covered by water when that one-meter wave hit Santa Cruz. There were also reports of damage to some houses in some villages," he said.

Ross Norton is head of the International Organization for Migration's office in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.  He says he did not feel the earthquake, but heard about the tsunami warning over the airwaves and from police announcements.

"In Honiara, it's pretty quiet. People have been taking precautions - moving to higher ground, and the schools that were opened closed and the students sent home," said Norton. "The beaches have closed.  But at this stage there hasn't been any real impact from the tsunami on Honiara."

Norton says authorities were fairly efficient in informing people to take precautions.  He says people moved to higher ground, starting with the schools.

"People are being advised to be careful and take precautions," he said. "But at this stage, it looks as though, thankfully, those, well, haven't been needed."

The Solomon Islands are part of the so-called "Ring of Fire," a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific Ocean that is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

More than 50 people died and dozens more were left missing in April 2007 when a magnitude-8.1 earthquake and devastating tsunami hit the western Solomons.