Tsunami generated by 8.0 quake in South Pacific

Associated Press

SYDNEY — A powerful earthquake in the South Pacific generated a tsunami Wednesday that prompting warnings to several island nations.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami of .9 meters (3 feet) was measured in Lata wharf, in the Solomon Islands. No damage was immediately reported there or in Vanuatu, which also was covered by the warning.

The statement said the waves could be destructive near the epicenter and threaten more distant coasts.

The tsunami formed after a 8.0-magnitude earthquake near near Lata in Temotu province, the easternmost province of the Solomons, about a 3-hour flight from the capital, Honiara. The region has a population of around 30,000 people.

In Honiara, the warning prompted residents to flee for 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,” said George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister. So far, he had received no reports that a wave had been observed in Honiara.

Atenia Tahu, who works for the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. in Honiara, said most people were remaining calm.

“People around the coast and in the capital are ringing in and trying to get information from us and the National Disaster Office and are slowly moving up to higher ground,” Tahu said. “But panic? No, no, no, people are not panicking.”

The tsunami warning also covered Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna. A tsunami watch is in effect for American Samoa, Australia, New Zealand and eastern Indonesia.

An official at the disaster management office in neighboring Vanuatu said there were no reports of damage or injuries there.

More than 50 people were killed and thousands lost their homes in April 2007 when a magnitude 8.1 quake hit the western Solomon Islands, sending waves crashing into coastal villages.

The Solomons comprise more than 200 islands with a population of about 552,000 people. They lie on the “Ring of Fire” — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific Rim and where about 90 percent of the world’s quakes occur.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck 81 kilometers (50 miles) west of Lata, at a depth of 5.8 kilometers (3.6 miles). The warning area does not include Hawaii and North and South America.

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