SYDNEY/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Residents of the remote Solomon Islands rushed into the hills after a powerful 7.8 earthquake struck early on Friday, with some reports of small tsunami waves as aftershocks rattled the South Pacific nation.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or major damage, although communication can be difficult across the archipelago of some 900 far-flung islands.
The quake triggered a tsunami warning for a wide swath of the South Pacific, although that alert was later canceled by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC).
Life appeared to be back to normal for most people on the Solomons’ six main islands within hours of the quake, although residents in southern Makira province closest to the epicenter remained cautious. The province on San Cristobal island is about 200 km (120 miles) east of the capital, Honiara.
“We are quite safe up the hill from the sea,” John Pirimare, a resident on Nafinua Island, told Reuters by telephone from the hills to where he and up to 600 other villagers had evacuated immediately after the quake.
Solomons authorities have warned a threat of unusual waves and abnormal high tides and currents remains. Pirimare said some of the dozen or so aftershocks felt as strong as the original quake.
The U.S. Geological Survey originally recorded the quake with a magnitude of 8.0 but later downgraded it to 7.8. The quake struck at 4:38 a.m. local time (1738 GMT Thursday) at a depth of around 40 km (25 miles).
There was a modest rise in the sea level in the region, with a 43cm lift recorded in neighboring New Caledonia, south of the epicenter, according to the Hawaii-based PTWC.
While the PTWC later canceled its warning of a potentially hazardous tsunami for the Solomon Islands and neighboring island chains, authorities in New Caledonia ordered people on the east coast and in the Loyalty islands to move to higher ground.
Martin Karani, a politician who represents Makira in the Solomons parliament, said the southern parts of the province were the hardest hit.
“Waves have come in to the villages and taken away the dugout canoes that were on the shore and also some houses that were down near the beach, but when it came through all of the villagers had already taken off,” he told Reuters.
Loti Yates, director of the National Disaster Management Office in the Solomons, said tsunami waves hit the southern region but there were no reports of casualties.
“That’s the good thing about it, it’s an indication that we may not be having any casualties,” Yates said.
The Solomons, perched on the geologically active “Pacific Ring of Fire”, were hit by a devastating tsunami following an 8.1 magnitude quake in 2007. That disaster killed at least 50 people, left dozens missing and destroyed 13 villages.
Lyndene Wan from the charity group Plan International Australia said residents in the capital were largely unruffled.
“Things definitely shook for some minutes, but I’m walking around, I’ve been up the hill, and looking out over Honiara there is no visible damage here,” Wan said.
(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell, Byron Kaye, Swati Pandey; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Alex Richardson, Lincoln Feast and Paul Tait)
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