POSTED: 3:30 p.m. HST, Feb 5, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 3:54 p.m. HST, Feb 6, 2013
SYDNEY >> Six bodies, including a child's, have been found in the sodden wreckage left by a tsunami that smashed into villages in the Solomon Islands, flattening dozens of homes in the South Pacific island chain.
The 4 foot, 11-inch waves that roared inland on Santa Cruz Island, in the eastern Solomons on Wednesday were too fast to outrun for five elderly villagers and one child, who died after being sucked under the rushing water, George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister, said today. Several other people were still 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.
The tsunami was generated by a powerful 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck near the town of Lata, on Santa Cruz in Temotu, the easternmost province in the Solomons. Temotu has a population of around 30,000.
Smaller waves were recorded in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
The damage appeared to be concentrated to the west side of Santa Cruz, with five villages wiped out, Herming said. Authorities were still struggling to reach the remote area but an estimated 100 homes had been damaged or destroyed, he said.
The tsunami flooded the airstrip at the nearest airport and left it littered with debris, preventing relief workers from reaching the region by air. Smaller islands may also have sustained some damage, but workers had also not yet reached those areas, Herming said.
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, sending waves crashing into coastal villages.
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.
Warnings and watches over a wide area of the South Pacific went up shortly after the earthquake struck at 3:12 p.m. Tuesday Hawaii time. The initial watches did not include Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.
At 5:47 p.m. Hawaii time, authorities canceled tsunami warnings on more distant coasts.