BRISBANE, Australia — Five people are reportedly dead and as many as 100 homes destroyed after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake sent strong waves crashing into several South Pacific islands.
A Pacific-wide tsunami alert was issued, affecting such island nations as Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia. However, the alert was canceled within hours.
The Wall Street Journal reported that at least three aftershocks were recorded, each measuring above a 6.0 magnitude.
According to CNN, four elderly people and a child died near the epicenter of the quake in the Santa Cruz Islands, part of the eastern Solomon Islands.
It was not yet known whether the victims died from the quake's initial impact or because of the reported five-foot waves that followed.
Government officials said that there were additional, unconfirmed reports that fishing boats with passengers on board had been swept out to sea.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported a tsunami of about three feet at the wharf in the same town of Lata, on the Santa Cruz chain. Smaller waves were recorded in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
The New York Times cited Christian humanitarian organization World Vision as saying that at least 100 homes in Lata were destroyed by a surge of water.
Agence France-Presse quoted a George Herming, spokesman for Solomons Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, as saying that four villages on the Santa Cruz Islands were affected.
"Latest reports suggest that between 60 to 70 homes have been damaged by waves crashing into at least four villages on Santa Cruz Islands. At this stage, authorities are still trying to establish the exact number and extent of damage. Communication to [the] Santa Cruz Islands is difficult due to the remoteness of the islands."
Herming added that many residents of Honiara, the Solomons' capital, had fled to 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."
The US Geological Survey initially reported the quake to have been 3.6 miles deep, but later pinpointed a depth of 17.8 miles. It was reportedly preceded 18 hours earlier by a 6.3-magnitude temblor.
The Fairfax media quoted the head of tsunami warning services at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, Rick Bailey, who said:
"There's been rumblings in the area for the last couple of weeks."
Some of the seismic activity was believed to be volcanic, Bailey said.
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