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Five dead as 8.0 quake off Solomons sparks Pacific tsunami
by Dorothy Wickham
Honiara (AFP) Feb 06, 2013


Solomons quake shows might of 'Ring of Fire'
Sydney (AFP) Feb 06 - A huge earthquake that struck off the Solomons Islands Wednesday was another reminder of the power of the volatile "Ring of Fire", a vast zone of volcanic instability that encircles the Pacific Ocean.

The 8.0-magnitude earthquake was feared to have flattened villages in the Solomons, and generated small tsunami waves that reached Pacific nations' coasts, triggering emergency sirens and evacuations.

Australia's earthquake monitoring agency and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said a wave measuring three feet (90 centimetres) had been recorded at Lata, on one of the Santa Cruz islands in the Solomons.

The Ring of Fire reaches from Indonesia to the coast of Chile in a 40,000 kilometre (25,000 mile) arc of seismic violence that unleashes earthquakes and volcanoes around the Pacific rim almost every day.

Most of history's deadliest quakes, tremors and volcanic explosions have occurred along this weak line in the Earth's crust, including the eruptions of Krakatoa near Java and Mount St Helens in the United States, as well as the massive quake that sparked the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

The Ring of Fire stretches along the western coast of the Americas and through the island nations of the South Pacific and on through Southeast Asia.

It is an interconnected circle of fault lines -- cracks in the Earth's hardened upper crust -- which are under constant pressure from super-hot molten rock beneath.

Occasionally the fissures give in and explode, creating volcanic eruptions and causing the land on either side of the fault line to shift and buckle violently, triggering earthquakes.

The fault lines are actually the margins of huge plates of rock on which the continents sit. These plates are in constant motion.

The 9.3-magnitude quake that struck Indonesia on December 26, 2004 unleashed tsunamis that crashed into Indian Ocean shorelines, killing more than 220,000 people.

The world's largest-ever registered tremor, the 9.5-magnitude Valdiva quake, shook Chile in 1960 and churned up a tsunami that killed scores in Japan and Hawaii.

A 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake off Japan in 2011 triggered a tsunami that left about 19,000 people dead or missing, and caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in the world's worst atomic disaster in 25 years.

In 2007 a tsunami following an 8.0-magnitude earthquake killed at least 52 people in the Solomons and left thousands homeless.

A major 8.0 magnitude earthquake jolted the Solomon Islands Wednesday with small tsunami waves buffeting Pacific coasts, leaving at least five people dead and dozens of homes damaged or destroyed.

A quake-generated wave of just under one metre (three feet) reached parts of the Solomons, and Vanuatu and New Caledonia also reported rising sea levels, before a region-wide tsunami alert was lifted.

Sirens were heard in Fiji, locals said. "Chaos in the streets of Suva as everyone tries to avoid the tsunami!!" tweeted Ratu Nemani Tebana from the Fiji capital.

The waves reached as far away as Japan, which was hit by a huge tsunami in March 2011 that killed more than 19,000 people.

Japan's Meteorological Agency reported a 20-centimetre wave hitting the Ogasawara island chain south of Tokyo eight hours after the quake struck. Smaller waves were later recorded on Japan's main island of Honshu.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center cancelled its regional alert for Pacific-island nations at 0350 GMT, about two and a half hours after the powerful quake struck at 0112 GMT near the Santa Cruz Islands in the Solomons.

Australian and US monitors said a tsunami wave measuring 91 centimetres washed into the town of Lata, on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the wave appeared to have travelled 500 metres inland, inundating Lata's airstrip as well as surrounding villages, flattening many traditional houses.

"We can report five dead and three injured. One of the dead was a male child, three were elderly women and one an elderly man," Chris Rogers, a nurse at Lata Hospital, told AFP.

Solomons Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo's office said four villages on the Santa Cruz Islands had been hit by the tsunami.

"Latest reports suggest that between 60 to 70 homes have been damaged by waves crashing into at least four villages on Santa Cruz Islands," Lilo's spokesman George Herming told AFP.

"At this stage, authorities are still trying to establish the exact number and extent of damage. Communication to (the) Santa Cruz Islands is difficult due to the remoteness of the islands."

Solomon Islands Red Cross secretary general Joanne Zoleveke said she had been told at least three villages were hit, with houses washed away.

"In the Solomon Islands when we talk about villages there can be anything from 10 to 30 houses," she said.

With Lata's airstrip out of commission, officials were hoping to fly over the area early Thursday to assess the damage better.

The US Geological Survey said the quake struck the Santa Cruz Islands, which have been rocked by a series of strong tremors over the past week, at a depth of 28.7 kilometres (18 miles).

About 20 aftershocks were recorded, including one at 6.6-magnitude.

"Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated," the Hawaii-based Pacific warning centre said after the 8.0 quake, before lifting its tsunami alert for several island nations.

Lata Hospital director of nursing Augustine Bilve said some patients were evacuated to higher ground to prepare for any injured from the villages along the coast.

Settlements did not appear to be seriously damaged in the quake, he said, but added: "We were told that after the shaking, waves came to the villages."

In 2007 a tsunami following an 8.0-magnitude earthquake killed at least 52 people in the Solomons and left thousands homeless. The quake lifted an entire island and pushed out its shoreline by dozens of metres.

The Solomons are part of the "Ring of Fire", a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific that is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

In December 2004, a 9.3-magnitude quake off Indonesia triggered a catastrophic tsunami that killed 226,000 people around the Indian Ocean.

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Related Links
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