January 04, 2010

Big Quakes Rock Solomon Islands, Tsunami Unleashed

Two major earthquakes rocked the Solomon Islands on Monday, destroying or damaging scores of homes and unleashing a tsunami that crashed ashore. Initial reports said no one was seriously hurt.

One temblor registered a 7.2 magnitude and the South Pacific nation's National Disaster Management Office said reports of widespread damage were beginning to filter in late Monday.

The tremors were centered beneath the ocean floor near the town of Gizo, which was badly damaged in April 2007 when a 8.1-magnitude quake sent a tsunami crashing into the coast, killing more than 50 people.

Another tsunami devastated a village on Rendova Island, some 188 miles (300 kilometers) from the capital Honiara, on Monday, disaster management official Loti Yates told The Associated Press.

"One report from police was that one village was hit by a 6 to 10 foot (2-3 meter) wall of sea water," Yates said. "It was a total inundation police saw in a fly over."

Rendova is home to about 3,600 people.

Yates said in Baniata village on Rendova's coast 16 houses were destroyed and 32 damaged by the quake and the wave.

"It could be several hundred houses have been damaged ... but that is still not verified," said Yates. "There are two to three villages where the situation could be much worse."

Ten foreign tourists were staying on Tetepare Island, an uninhabited eco-tourism site, and the four Germans, four Britons and two New Zealanders were evacuated. Unconfirmed reports said two had been injured.

Yates said there were no other reports of injuries. "We're lucky that whatever happened happened during the day and people were able to hike up the hills," he said

Two helicopters and a police boat were carrying out damage assessments and a vessel carrying water, food and tarpaulins was dispatched from Honiara.

The U.S. Geological Survey recorded seven earthquakes in the region since late Sunday. The largest, of magnitude 7.2, was centered 64 miles (103 kilometers) southeast of Gizo, and followed a magnitude 6.5 tremor less than two hours earlier centered 54 miles (90 kilometers) southeast of Gizo at a depth of 6 miles (10 kilometers).

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