Authorities in helicopters flew over remote coastlines in the Solomon Islands on Tuesday trying to assess the damage from a large earthquake and tsunami that crashed ashore a day earlier, devastating at least one village. No injuries were reported some 24 hours after the biggest of a series of quakes churned a tsunami wave that was up to 10 feet (3 meters) high as it crashed ashore.
Locals said residents were lucky the event happened during the day when many people were awake and able to flee easily, and noted that they were better prepared since a deadly tsunami in the region three years ago.
A magnitude-7.2 quake sent a tsunami slamming into the shores of Rendova Island and nearby Tetepare Island about 9:30 a.m. local time Monday. Eight other quakes greater than magnitude 5.0 have rocked the region since.
A police boat and two helicopters patrolled Tuesday to check the coastline, where many homes are at sea level and close to the coast, making them vulnerable to tsunamis, said Julian Makaa, a spokesman for the National Disaster Management Office.
"Two damage assessment teams have been sent to Rendova to walk through and conduct damage surveys, but no casualties have been reported," so far, Makaa told The Associated Press. Another disaster management official, Loti Yates, said earlier that at least 16 houses were destroyed and 32 damaged in Baniata village on Rendova, an island some 190 miles (300 kilometers) from the capital Honiara where some 3,600 people live. "One report from police was that one village was hit by a 6 to 10 foot (2-3 meter) wall of sea water," Yates said. "It was a total inundation police saw in a flyover."
He said the damage toll could be much higher.
"It could be several hundred houses have been damaged, but that is still not verified," said Yates. "There are two to three villages where the situation could be much worse." A government boat arrived in the area Tuesday with emergency food, water and tarpaulins for survivors.
Ten foreign tourists were staying on Tetepare Island, an uninhabited eco-tourism site, and the four Germans, four Britons and two New Zealanders were evacuated.
The tremors were centered beneath the ocean floor near the provincial capital of Gizo, which was badly damaged in April 2007 when a 8.1-magnitude quake sent a tsunami crashing into the coast, killing more than 50 people.
Gizo resident and dive shop owner Danny Kennedy said there had been no damage in the town from the latest quakes and that no tsunami had hit.
The lack of casualties was reflected in the "general rule in villages and in Gizo" that "if there's anything more than 20 seconds of shaking or any sea water recedes, head for the hills," Kennedy said.
The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded nine earthquakes greater than magnitude 5.0 in the region since late Sunday. The magnitude 7.2 was centered 64 miles (103 kilometers) southeast of Gizo, and followed a magnitude 6.5 tremor less than two hours earlier centered 54 miles (90 kilometers) southeast of Gizo at a depth of 6 miles (10 kilometers).
The Solomon Islands 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.