South Pacific quake sends tsunami
HONIARA, Solomon Islands – A powerful undersea earthquake Monday in the South Pacific sent a tsunami several yards high crashing into the Solomon Islands, devastating at least one village, officials and residents said.Police and residents said a wave about 10 feet high struck the western town of Gizo, inundating buildings and causing widespread destruction. A man who answered the telephone at the Gizo police station said there were initial reports that eight people, six of them children, had been killed by the tsunami but they were still unconfirmed. The phone cut out abruptly before the man gave his name.Gizo resident Judith Kennedy said water “right up to your head” swept through the town.”All the houses near the sea were flattened,” she told The Associated Press by telephone. “The downtown area is a very big mess from the tsunami and the earthquake,” she added. “A lot of houses have collapsed. The whole town is still shaking” from aftershocks.The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured magnitude-8.0 and struck at 7:39 a.m. about 6 miles beneath the sea floor, 217 miles northwest of the capital, Honiara.The Pacific region from Australia to Hawaii went on high alert for several hours after the quake struck between the islands of Bougainville and New Georgia, though officials canceled a region-wide tsunami warning after the danger period passed.Gizo, a regional center, is just 25 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.Another witness in the town, dive shop owner Danny Kennedy, Judith’s father, estimated the height of the wave at 10 feet.”I’m driving down the street – there are boats in the middle of the road, buildings have completely collapsed and fallen down,” he said in a telephone interview.”We’re just trying to mobilize water and food, and shelter for people at the moment because … in the town alone there’s going to be between 2,000-3,000 homeless. It’s not a very good scene at the moment.”Harry Wickham, who owns a waterfront hotel in Gizo, said the damage was widespread.”The waves came up probably about 10 feet and swept through town,” he told Australia’s Nine Network television by telephone. “There’s a lot of water damage and a lot of debris floating around,” he added.”Ten feet of water washing through town – you can imagine what damage it has done here.”Julian McLeod of the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office said there were unconfirmed reports that two villages in the country’s far west were flooded.”Two villages were reported to have been completely inundated,” McLeod told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “We have received reports of four people missing.”Mcleod told Sky News only three deaths had been reported, while national police spokesman Mick Spinks told The Associated Press there were unconfirmed reports of four deaths.”Our biggest problem is communications, because most of the high frequency radio system there was submerged,” Spinks said.A town in the west, Munda, was believed to be badly damaged, officials and the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. said, but details were not confirmed.Solomon Islands deputy police commissioner Peter Marshall said an airplane was to fly over the devastated areas later Monday to assess damage.The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported the quake at magnitude 8.1, and said a temblor of that strength could cause a destructive tsunami and issued a warning bulletin for the Solomon Islands and neighboring Papua New Guinea. The alert was later lifted, and no reports of a wider tsunami or damage elsewhere emerged.Australian officials closed beaches anyway along the length of the country’s east coast, from near the Great Barrier Reef in the north to Sydney and it’s famous Bondi beach in the south. Ferry services in the city were canceled.It ordered a lower-level “tsunami watch” for other places, including most South Pacific countries, but later canceled the alert. The center said a 6-inch wave had been reported in Honiara.Police Sgt. Godfrey Abiah said in Honiara that police in Gizo had received warning about a possible tsunami and were helping people leave the town for higher ground when the wave hit.”We have lost radio contact with the two police stations down there and we’re not getting any clear picture from down there,” he told the AP by telephone.A spokesman for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Deli Oso, said the quake was felt in Honiara but there were no reports of any damage.The Solomon Islands is a poverty-wracked archipelago of more than 200 islands northeast of Australia, with a population of about 552,000 people, that lies on the Pacific Basin’s so-called “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanos and fault lines where quakes frequently happen.