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Moderate earthquake in South Pacific poses no threat to Hawaii

By Star-Advertiser staff & Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 3:13 p.m. HST, Feb 7, 2013

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An earthquake of a preliminary 6.6-magnitude struck the Santa Cruz Islands this morning, but poses no tsunami threat to Hawaii, according to the National Weather Service.

The temblor struck at 8:59 a.m. Hawaii time, 22 miles southwest of Lata, Solomon Islands at a depth of 6.2 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo was on a plane to Santa Cruz Island in the eastern Solomons to assess damage when the aftershock hit, said Silas Lilo, a spokesman for his office. The plane was forced to return to the capital Honiara.

There were no immediate reports of further damage or casualties. The 6.6-magnitude aftershock was one of many since an 8.0 earthquake that set off a tsunami on Tuesday afternoon Hawaii time.

Waves  nearly five feet tall roared inland on Santa Cruz, damaging or destroying an estimated 100 homes across five villages.

Five elderly villagers and a child who couldn't outrun the rushing water were killed, said George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister. Three more bodies were found today, but Herming said details of how those victims died were not immediately available.

Several others are missing and dozens of strong aftershocks were keeping frightened villagers from returning to the coast, Herming said.

"People are still scared of going back to their homes because there's nothing left, so they are residing in temporary shelters on higher ground," Herming said.

Disaster officials were en route to the isolated area today after the local airport, which was flooded by the tsunami, was finally cleared of debris.

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.

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 and a tsunami crashed into coastal villages.

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