The quake, with a magnitude 8.0, struck at 01:12 GMT near the Santa Cruz islands, the US Geological Survey said.A tsunami measuring 0.9 metres (3ft) then hit Lata on eastern Santa Cruz island, swamping the island's airport. A tsunami warning was triggered for several Pacific nations, but was cancelled about two hours later. Lata is the main town on Santa Cruz, also known as Nendo. It is the largest island in the Santa Cruz island chain, part of the Solomon Islands nation. The worst of the damage was said to have been on the western coast of Santa Cruz, with one report putting the waves there at 1.5 metres.
Medical staff at Lata hospital said five people had been killed - four elderly people and one young boy.But director of nursing Augustine Pilve told New Zealand television that number could rise. "It's more likely that other villages along the coast of Santa Cruz may be affected," he said. Robert Iroga, press secretary to the Solomons prime minister, told the BBC that the waves west of Lata had travelled some 500 metres inland, and that three villages had been damaged. Many of the homes in the area were semi-permanent, he said, and were reported to have been flattened.
Police were travelling to the area, he said, and the priority was to ensure the local airport is functioning so aid and supplies can be flown in. Another government spokesman, George Herming, said
reports suggested that between 60 to 70 homes have been damaged in four villages on Santa Cruz Islands. "At this stage, authorities are still trying to establish the exact number and extent of damage," he told AFP, adding that communications with the islands was difficult because of their Initial reports by the USGS said the quake had a shallow depth of 5.8 kilometres (3.6 miles) but it later revised the figure to 28.7 kilometres (17.8 miles). Luke Taula, a fisheries officer in Lata, told Reuters news agency the wave came as several small tidal surges.
"We have small waves come in, then go out again, then come back in. The waves have reached the airport terminal," he told the news agency. Tsunami warnings were issued for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, and Wallis and Futuna islands.But they were later cancelled. by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which warned that some coastal areas may still experience small changes in sea level.The Solomon Islands form part of the Ring Of Fire, a zone of volcanic arcs and oceanic trenches encircling the Pacific basin.
The 8.0 earthquake was followed by several aftershocks, the largest measuring 6.6 magnitude. The region has been experiencing a series of smaller quakes in recent days.In 2007 an 8.1 magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed at least 52 people in the Solomons and left thousands homeless. (BBC)