At least five people are reported killed and many others injured in tsunami waves triggered by magnitude 8.0 earthquake that struck off the coast of the tiny island nation of Solomon Islands Wednesday.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck 28.7 kilometers deep with its epicenter located 81 km west of Lata, the capital of the eastern province of Temotu on Santa Cruz Island, generating a "potentially destructive" tsunami in the region and triggering tsunami warnings in the South Pacific.
Television New Zealand reported that a hospital in Lata has confirmed the death of four elderly people and a 10-12 years old boy.
Nearly five-foot waves damaged at least 50 homes in the Santa Cruz islands, while more damages and casualties are feared in the killer waves and ensuing flooding. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the tsunami could be destructive near the epicenter.
A BBC report quoting Robert Iroga, press secretary to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, said the waves made inroads 500 meters into three villages west and south of Lata, damaging a number of homes. Iroga put the death toll at four. Amid witness accounts that waves have reached the local airport terminal, he added that authorities are trying to make sure the airport is functioning so aid and supplies can be flown in.
Residents are reportedly moving to higher lands on advise by the authorities.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a tsunami warning for the South Pacific islands, namely, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna. The warning was canceled later.
New Zealand and Australia are among countries under Tsunami watch. In New Zealand, Thousands of people who were out on the beaches on Waitangi Day, a national holiday, heard Tsunami sirens in the afternoon. They were were asked to evacuate, while fishermen were warned against venturing into the sea, rivers and estuaries.
However, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology says the country was not at risk from the giant waves.
The Center issued a bulletin, saying "Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated. It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts." It urged authorities to "take appropriate action in response to this possibility."
The authorities in the French territory of New Caledonia ordered the coastal residents on its eastern coast and the Loyalty Islands to evacuate immediately.
The main earthquake was followed by several aftershocks, the largest of which had a magnitude of 6.6 on the Richter scale.
A collection of nearly one thousand islands in Oceania, the Solomon Islands form part of the Ring Of Fire, a zone of several active and dormant volcanoes and oceanic trenches encircling the Pacific basin.
An 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck the archipelago in 2007, triggering a tsunami that killed at least 52 people and left thousands homeless.
by RTT Staff Writer
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