Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Monday, 2 April 2007 14:47 UK

Tsunami strikes Solomon Islands

Map of Solomon Islands

At least 12 people have died in the Solomon Islands after a tsunami swept ashore following a strong undersea earthquake in the South Pacific.

The main town in the western Solomons, Gizo, was hit by waves several metres high that swamped buildings and washed people out to sea, officials said.

Local officials fear the numbers of dead could rise, with reports of outlying villages being destroyed.

The quake measured 8.0 and hit at 0740 local time on Monday (2040 GMT Sunday).

'Ran for our lives'

It struck 345km (215 miles) north-west of Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands which lie north-east of Australia, and at a depth of 10km (six miles), the US Geological Survey said.

Gizo, a small fishing town and diving centre on Ghizo island, was only 45km (25 miles) from the epicentre.

"We ran for our lives, away from the waves," Gizo primary school teacher Arnold Pidakere told the BBC News website.

"When we looked back, we saw our house being destroyed."

Mr Pidakere is now with about 500 other residents of Gizo who are spending the night in the open in the hills above town.

We ran for our lives, away from the waves. When we looked back, we saw our house being destroyed
Arnold Pidakere
Teacher, Gizo

He said they badly needed food, and even more urgently, water, as all the area's water tanks have collapsed.

The premier of Western Province, Alex Lokopio, said there was no warning.

"It shook us very, very strongly and we were frightened, and all of a sudden the sea was rising up," he told Radio New Zealand.

He said the water "moved toward the island and hit all the houses on the coastal area, and all of their property was washed away to the open sea."

Several thousand people were taking refuge on higher ground outside Gizo and were in need of water, food and shelter.

Remote islands

Government officials and the Red Cross were setting up a base in the Western Province, of which Gizo is the capital, to co-ordinate assistance.

The Solomon Islands has a population of about 500,000 people - many of them living on remote and widely scattered islands.

Many people live in houses made of palm and bamboo on the islands' beaches.

Reports coming in of damage on outlying islands include:

  • 300 houses destroyed in Sasamungga village on Choiseul island
  • four people missing on Mono island
  • waves seen 200 metres inland on Simbo island
  • Ranunga island also hit
  • bodies seen floating in the sea

Witnesses described the water reaching 50-70 metres (164-230 feet) inland on Ghizo.

Gizo hospital before the tsunami - photo from Solomon Islands government
Gizo's hospital was inundated and damaged beyond use

Gizo resident and dive-shop owner Danny Kennedy said large boats had been washed ashore and were lying in the middle of the town.

"Basically it was like a really extreme high tide that came very quickly and I reckon that the wave was probably about five metres and just kind of brought the water level up and then just resided really, really quickly," he told Associated Press.

Another resident, Naomi Baea, told Reuters news agency: "One child was drowned that we know of and there's an old woman that died where the house fell on top of her and also the waves just filled the house so she drowned."

video and audio news
BBC correspondent on the devastation caused

Eyewitness: Solomon Islands tsunami
02 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Gizo at centre of tsunami fears
02 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Tsunami explained
19 Jul 06 |  Asia-Pacific
How earthquakes happen
01 Jun 09 |  Science & Environment
Deadly history of earthquakes
06 Mar 07 |  World

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