A tsunami has struck the eastern Solomon Islands after a powerful earthquake that briefly triggered warnings for several South Pacific nations. The magnitude 8.0 quake near the Santa Cruz Islands is reported to have destroyed at least three villages. Officials in the Solomon Islands say there may be casualties.
The U.S. Geological Survey says a tsunami measuring 0.9 meters hit the town of Lata in the Santa Cruz Island chain in the eastern part of the Solomon Islands.
Officials say the wave swept half a kilometer inland, destroying homes and sending panicked residents fleeing to higher ground.
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Tsunami warnings were also issued across the South Pacific, including Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Fiji and Kiribati, but later cancelled.
Solomon Islands Police Commissioner John Lansley says authorities are trying to establish how much damage the tsunami has caused.
“We believe that three, possibly four villages have been affected," said Lansley. "The severity we are not clear about and I do not want to speculate, but we are doing our utmost to establish a little bit more information about the effects of the surge wave. We also are not clear on casualties, although we believe there may be casualties.”
A powerful aftershock has raised even more concerns across the Solomon Islands, an archipelago east of Papua New Guinea that is home to 600,000 people.
Andrew Catford, from the charity World Vision, who is based in the capital Honiara, says his staff in the worst hit area were almost knocked off their feet by the earthquake.
“They could feel a really serious shake. There has been a series of them in the last week or two, but this was a particularly strong one and then it was fairly quickly followed probably, within about five or ten minutes, by this fairly large surge from the sea, which covered the runway which is very low-lying close to the coast,” said Catford.
The Solomon Islands are part of the so-called "Ring of Fire," a zone of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that circle the Pacific basin. It includes Japan, Indonesia and New Zealand, which experience thousands of earthquakes each year. Most are minor.
In 2007, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake unleashed a tsunami that killed more than 50 people in the Solomon Islands and left thousands of others homeless.