by Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- A massive earthquake struck Wednesday east of Kira Kira in the Solomon Islands that has generated a localized Tsunami, five people have been confirmed dead and coastal villages have been damaged, triggering a Pacific wide alert.
A hospital spokesman said four of the victims were elderly, and one was a boy aged 10-12 years old. the toll is expected to rise.
David Jepsen, a seismologist from Geoscience Australia told Xinhua that Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, was about 500 kilometers west of the event. "At 12 minutes past midday, a 7.9 earthquake in the Santa Cruz Islands (near the Solomon Islands) occurred. A shallow event." He said. "The nearest part from our location estimate is an island called Ndeni, which is part of the Santa Cruz Islands. They would have had quite strong shaking and could potentially have some damage there from shaking."
While the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has canceled an alert across the pacific from Papua New Guinea to Fiji, it appears that the waves reported to be somewhere between 90 cm's and 1.5 meters have remained localized around the coast of the Solomon Islands. Solomon Islands Police Commissioner John Lansley told reporters ' several people' were presumed dead. "Sadly, we believe some people have lost their lives. At the moment we potentially know of four, but there may of course be more."
Tan Jingquan, a Chinese businessman based in Honiara, the capital of the island state with a population of just over 500,000, told Xinhua that flooding has occurred.
"I called my friends in the center of the disaster. He said that numbers of stores and residences near the earthquake epicenter have been flooded. But Honiara is not affected badly due to the long distance away from the epicenter. There is no report yet about death and wounded."
Professor James Goff, Director of the Tsunami and Natural Hazards Research Group at the University of New South Wales feared the worst when the magnitude 8.0 quake struck at the Santa Cruz Islands, part of the South Pacific nation of Solomon Islands on Wednesday from a depth of 5.8 kilometers. "The Mag 8.0 Santa Cruz earthquake was originally reported by the United States Geological Survey to be about 5.8 km deep which made me think "oh no, here we go again, this will be a bad one", but subsequent bulletins from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center placed it at 33 km deep which at the very least reduces the likelihood of the tsunami being too bad."
Goff reported that while stories were filtering through of localized damage it appeared that people were evacuating to safety.
He said, "Close to the source we hear of villages being destroyed, but equally stories are emerging of people evacuating to higher ground after the earthquake and that is indeed wonderfully encouraging, people are taking the initiative to get out of harm's way."
It remains to be seen how regionally significant this tsunami has been, and how bad the damage was from the earthquake, but some of the available data can appear a bit misleading. We hear that a tsunami of around 90 cm was recorded at Lata.
Tsunamis on land can run up considerably higher than their offshore height, hence we hear that some coastal communities have sadly been destroyed. It will only be in the ensuing days and weeks that we find out how big the wave really was when it came on land.
The size of the earthquake has surprised experts, coming reasonably quickly in geological terms after an event that occurred in the Western Province and killed 52 people - an area of different plate boundaries and different activity.
Jepsen, from Geoscience Australia told Xinhua, "It's a big earthquake, but nowhere near as big as the one in Japan, which was 9.
According to Geoscience Australia, a one meter wave was recorded on the island of Ndeni and around half a meter at New Caledonia.
In the previous week, the region has seen about seven earthquakes of magnitude 6 to 6.5 until Wednesday. Aftershocks are also being reported.
Goff said much more work needed to be done to understand and better prepare for seismic events in the region. "In reality we know very little about the long-term earthquake and tsunami activity of the entire Solomon Islands region and so cannot say with any confidence whether this type of event we have seen today is out of the ordinary or how often we might expect it to happen in the future." "Much work needs to be done to improve our understanding of such events in the Solomon Islands for the safety of both local and regional communities." He said.