Early this morning, local time) a strong undersea earthquake – estimated at 8.0 – caused a tsunami with waves up to three meters (app. 10 feet) in height. They came ashore shortly after the quake on the island of Gizo in the Western Solomon Islands, causing widespread destruction and, according to preliminary reports, the deaths of at least 12 people.
Gizo is located approximately 45 kms (27 miles) from the epicenter of the quake, and received virtually no advance warning of the destructive waves. Officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii issued a series of bulletins shortly after the quake was detected. Despite fears, further destruction from the tsunami failed to materialize and the warnings were cancelled some 12 hours later.
Detailed reports are still sketchy due to Gizo’s remote location. The island and the town of the same name are around 345 kms (215 miles) north-west of the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara, and around 1000 kms 600 miles off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea.
News reports quoted eyewitnesses as saying there was virtually no time for residents to flee, as the waves arrived within minutes of the quake. The water didn’t go very far inland, around 75 yards by most estimates, but washed away many beach front properties and fishing vessels.
Preliminary reports indicate that between 2,000 to 3,000 people have been left homeless on Gizo, and the death toll may well increase. Additional loss of life and property damage is also being reported from smaller islands near Gizo, but few details are currently available.
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