8.0 quake spurs Pacific tsunami fears

AFP-JIJI

A major 8.0-magnitude earthquake was feared to have flattened villages in the Solomon Islands on Wednesday and triggered a tsunami with destructive potential for Pacific nations.

A small tsunami reached part of the Solomons and watches were in effect as far afield as Hawaii, the state’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said. New Zealand was also on guard, but monitors said there was no threat to Australia.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck early Wednesday morning near the Santa Cruz Islands in the Solomons, which have been hit by a series of strong tremors over the past week, at a depth of 5.8 km. Two powerful aftershocks of magnitude 6.4 and 6.6 were also recorded.

“Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said. “It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter and could also be a threat to more distant coasts.”

Australia’s earthquake monitoring agency and the Hawaii center said a wave measuring 0.90 meter had been recorded at Lata, on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende.

“We know that a tsunami has been created,” Geoscience Australia seismologist David Jepsen said, adding that depending on the location of the temblor, bigger waves could hit elsewhere. “It’s a big earthquake anyway in terms of just the shaking.”

The tsunami warning was in effect for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, and Wallis and Futuna. Lower-grade tsunami watches were in place beyond those Pacific nations.

“At the moment there’s a tsunami watch in place for Indonesia, not a warning, so we’re monitoring very closely,” said the technical chief of the Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency. “If it does reach Indonesia, it would likely take a few hours and would hit the area around Papua and other islands nearby.”