6 Feb 2013

Solomons officials unsure of full extent of earthquake and tsunami damage

8:27 pm on 6 February 2013

It may take days for officials in Solomon Islands to get a clear picture of the damage caused by yesterday's earthquake and tsunami in remote Temotu province.

The number of casualties is feared as high as five from the magnitude 8 undersea earthquake which was 29 kilometres deep and located in the south eastern part of the country.

A number of people in Temotu remain missing and reports of damage to villages are only beginning to trickle in.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre put out regional warnings and tusnami watch alerts which were later cancelled as the focus turned to damage assessment in the Solomons.

The quake struck just after midday (Solomon Islands Time) and 18 minutes later a 90 centimetre wave hit the Temotu province port of Lata.

The Solomon Islands National Disaster Management office's Sipuru Rove says a few villages were damaged by the Tsunami.

"Reports reaching us concern that waves has covered some villages along the Graciosa Bay, one of the big bays in the Santa Cruz Islands, and waves were covering the Lata airport."

Tsunami warnings on radio stations in neighbouring island countries sent people fleeing from coastal areas.

Sela Molisa is a Vanuatu MP from the northern island of Santo where he says the warning was relayed quickly.

So everybody took off to the hills. They got the message about half an hour later. In fact in the village, people have just been returning from the hills. People went to the hills to get away from the coast.

However no significant damage has yet been reported in Vanuatu or nearby New Caledonia where a wave of half a metre was recorded.

Solomon Islands Disaster officials expect the focus of their response will primarily be in Temotu province.

The police commissioner John Lansley says because the area is quite isolated it could take a couple of days before they fully know the extent of the damage.

It is a significant distance from where the resources are kept, we do have preparatory resources already on the islands because this type of situation has been predicted as a possibility in the past but the major response will take some time.

He says they believe Makira province was also affected but their biggest concern is for Temotu.

We do believe there may be some casualties but the extent of the casualties we are not able to relate yet, still being assessed. We do not believe there have been casualties other than in Temotu province.

John Lansley says members of the Regional Assistance Mission are trying to assess affected regions by air.

The accountant at Lata Hospital, Moses Mekupe, says several people have been admitted with injuries after the earthquake and tsunami.

Speaking three hours after the quake he said tremors were continuing and most people had moved inland.

He told our reporter about the initial quake.

All of us were in our offices. Suddenly the earthquake strikes and it runs about five minutes and then a tsunami later hits areas around Lata.

Mr Mekupe says the tsunami came immediately after the quake.

He says while Lata was not damaged there has been destruction in coastal communities near the main town.

The impact was some communities or houses swept away, near communities, but far communities we are still to hear information.