Tsunami travel time contours in hours, beginning from the earthquake origin time. Photo / Potential Tsunami Warning Center
Tsunami travel time contours in hours, beginning from the earthquake origin time. Photo / Potential Tsunami Warning Center

Quake near Solomon Islands sparks tsunami warning

• A powerful 7.8 quake hit near the Solomon Islands
• Reports of damage are starting to emerge
• A tsunami alert throughout the South Pacific has been lifted

New Zealand is no longer under a tsunami threat but people in coastal areas were warned to stay out of the water, keep away from beaches and shore areas

A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the Solomon Islands early on Friday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties and a tsunami warning for a wide swathe of the South Pacific has been lifted.

Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates said he had received reports of collapsed buildings in villages in Makira, the island closest to the epicentre of the massive undersea quake, which had initially prompted a tsunami watch as far afield as Hawaii.

"Villages that we have made contact with have evacuated, actually most of the communities that we have spoken with had already evacuated," Yates told Reuters.

Yates said he had not received any reports of deaths.

There is no threat to the Australian mainland from a tsunami, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has reached out to travellers in the region, warning on Twitter of a localised tsunami and urging people to follow local advice.

The earthquake, which struck at 4.38 AEDT, was centred about 68km southwest of Kirakira in the Solomon Islands.

It was 49km deep.

Reports of collapsed houses in the Solomon Islands were beginning to emerge.

Loti Yates, from the National Disaster Management Office in the capital Honiara, has told the ABC there are reports of houses crumbling in parts of the country, including on the island of Makira, the largest in Makira-Ulawa province. 

James Samani, duty manager at the Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel in the capital Honiara, said the earthquake was strongly felt but the hotel was not damaged.

"We felt it big and strong in Honiara, but at the moment here in the hotel all the guests are in the lobby," Samani told Reuters.

Yates said the authorities in the Solomons would start to assess the damage as morning dawned.

Some 50,000 people live in Makira Province, the closest to the epicentre of the quake.

"It's not yet clear what sort of impact this has had," Yates said. "It was dark so it is just now getting light and we can try and assess the damage."

John Pirimare, a resident on Nafinua Island, spoke to Reuters from up the hills where he evacuated immediately after the quake with around 500 to 600 villagers after they received the tsunami warning on their phones.

"It was a great shock but no serious damage," Pirimare said. "Most of the people went straight here; and we won't leave until the tsunami threat has passed."

New Zealand Civil Defence earlier issued a nationwide marine and beach alert.

People in coastal areas were warned to stay out of the water, keep away from beaches and shore areas. It includes keep out of rivers and estuaries and all boating activities.

Auckland Council has said no evacuations are needed for the region.

More advice would be broadcast as more information on the precise threat to the country's coastline was known.

Geonet said the tsunami experts panel had been activated to assess any threat to the New Zealand coastline.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) put the preliminary magnitude of the earthquake at 7.8, down from an initial estimate of 8.0.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has issued a tsunami alert for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, New Caledonia and Tuvalu and Kosrae.

"Based on all available data a tsunami may have been generated by this earthquake that could be destructive on coastal areas even far from the epicentre," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.

The US Tsunami Warning Centre said it was analysing the earthquake to determine if there is a tsunami threat to the country's west coast, BNO News reports.

This morning's powerful quake has been followed by a 5.5 aftershock.

A local reported the quake "felt like my house was rocking in the sea".

In 2007 parts of the Solomon Islands were destroyed after a massive tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake.

Villages were wiped out and 52 people were killed when devastating waves washed across the island nation.

The largest waves were reported on Simbo Island where waves of up to 12m high destroyed some 900 homes and destroyed more than 13 coastal villages.

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