Small tsunami hits Solomon Islands after 8.0-magnitude quake

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SYDNEY (AP) — A powerful earthquake off the Solomon Islands generated a tsunami of up to about 5 feet that damaged dozens of homes and likely killed several people in the South Pacific island chain on Wednesday.

Authorities canceled warnings for tsunamis on more distant coasts.

Solomons officials reported two 5-foot waves hit the western side of Santa Cruz Island, damaging about 50 homes and properties, said George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister. Many villagers had headed to higher ground as a precaution, Mr. Herming said.

Solomon Islands police Commissioner John Lansley said local police patrols had reported that several people were presumed dead, though the reports were still being verified.

“Sadly, we believe some people have lost their lives,” he said. “At the moment we potentially know of four, but there may of course be more.”

Four villages on Santa Cruz were affected by the waves, with two facing severe damage, Mr. Lansley said. Other areas of the Solomons did not appear to have been seriously affected.

The tsunami formed after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Lata on Santa Cruz in Temotu province, the easternmost province of the Solomons, about a three-hour flight from the capital, Honiara. The region has a population of around 30,000 people.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami of about 3 feet was measured in Lata wharf, in the Solomon Islands. Smaller waves were recorded in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

The center cancelled earlier warnings for tsunami waves further away.

Richard Dapo, a school principal on an island near Santa Cruz, said he lives inland but has been fielding calls from families on the coast whose homes have been damaged by the waves.

“I try to tell the people living on the coastline: ‘Move inland; find a higher place. Make sure to keep away from the sea. Watch out for waves,’” he said.

He said he’s heard the waves have swamped some smaller islands, although he’s not aware of any deaths or serious injuries at this point. He said it’s difficult to contact people because cellphone coverage is patchy in the region.

In Honiara, the warnings prompted residents to flee for higher ground.

“People are still standing on the hills outside of Honiara just looking out over the water, trying to observe if there is a wave coming in,” said Mr. Herming, the prime minister’s spokesman.

Atenia Tahu, who works for the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. in Honiara, said most people were remaining calm.

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