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Small tsunami hits Solomons after quake

A Venga village lies in ruins after a tsunami Wednesday in the Temotu province, Solomon Islands.

A Venga village lies in ruins after a tsunami Wednesday in the Temotu province, Solomon Islands. Photo by The Associated Press.

SYDNEY (AP) — A powerful earthquake off the Solomon Islands on Wednesday generated a tsunami of up to 5 feet that damaged dozens of homes and left at least four people missing and presumed dead in the South Pacific island chain.

Authorities canceled tsunami warnings on more distant coasts.

Local officials reported that two 4 foot, 11-inch waves hit the western side of Santa Cruz Island, damaging between 70 and 80 homes and properties, said George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister. Many villagers had headed to higher ground as a precaution, he said.

Dozens of aftershocks stronger than magnitude 5 followed the quake.

Solomon Islands Police Commissioner John Lansley said local police patrols reported that several people were presumed dead, though the reports were still being verified.

“Sadly, we believe some people have lost their lives,” he said. “At the moment we potentially know of four, but there may of course be more.”

One of the people presumed dead was fishing in a dugout canoe when the first wave hit, sweeping him out to sea, Herming said. Officials were searching for his body. Another woman was believed to have drowned when the water rushed into her village.

Four villages on Santa Cruz were hit by the waves, with two facing severe damage, Lansley said. Other areas of the Solomons did not appear to have been seriously affected.

Disaster officials were struggling to reach the remote area after the tsunami flooded the airstrip at the nearest airport and left it littered with debris.

The tsunami formed after a magnitude-8.0 earthquake struck near the town of Lata, on Santa Cruz in Temotu, the easternmost province in the Solomons, about a 3-hour flight from the capital, Honiara.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami of about a 3 feet was measured in Lata wharf. Smaller waves were recorded in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

The center canceled warnings for tsunami waves further away.

In Honiara, the warnings 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 Herming, the prime minister’s spokesman.

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.”

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