, HONIARA, Feb 6 – A major 8.0 magnitude earthquake jolted the Solomon Islands on Wednesday with small tsunami waves buffeting Pacific coastlines, leaving at least five people dead and dozens of homes damaged or destroyed.
A quake-generated wave of just under one metre (three feet) reached parts of the Solomons, and Vanuatu and New Caledonia also reported rising sea levels, before a region-wide tsunami alert was lifted.
Sirens were heard in Fiji, locals said. “Chaos in the streets of Suva as everyone tries to avoid the tsunami!!” tweeted Ratu Nemani Tebana from the Fiji capital.
Quake-prone Japan, which was hit by a huge tsunami in March 2011 that killed more than 19,000 people, was also on edge with the national weather agency warning that a small tsunami could still come ashore.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre cancelled its regional alert for Pacific-island nations at 0350 GMT, about two and a half hours after the powerful quake struck at 0112 GMT near the Santa Cruz Islands in the Solomons.
“We can report five dead and three injured. One of the dead was a male child, three were elderly women and one an elderly man,” Chris Rogers, a nurse at Lata Hospital in the Santa Cruz Islands, told AFP.
Solomons Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo’s office said four villages on the Santa Cruz Islands had been hit.
“Latest reports suggest that between 60 to 70 homes have been damaged by waves crashing into at least four villages on Santa Cruz Islands,” Lilo’s spokesman George Herming told AFP.
“At this stage, authorities are still trying to establish the exact number and extent of damage. Communication to Santa Cruz Island is difficult due to the remoteness of the island.”
It was not immediately apparent whether the victims died in the quake or tsunami.
Solomon Islands Red Cross secretary general Joanne Zoleveke said she too had been told at least three villages were hit, with houses washed away.
“In the Solomon Islands when we talk about villages there can be anything from 10 to 30 houses,” she said.