HONIARA, Solomon Islands A powerful earthquake struck in the South Pacific today off the Solomon Islands, triggering a tsunami several yards high that destroyed a village and left at least four people missing, officials and residents said.
Judith Kennedy, a resident of the western town of Gizo, said water "right up to your head" swept through the town.
"All the houses near the sea were flattened," she told The Associated Press by telephone. "The downtown area is a very big mess from the tsunami and the earthquake," she added. "A lot of houses have collapsed. The whole town is still shaking" from aftershocks.
Police and residents said buildings were inundated when the wave hit Gizo, a regional center.
Harry Wickham, who owns a waterfront hotel in the town, said the damage was widespread. "The waves came up probably about 10 feet and swept through town," he told Australia's Nine Network television by telephone.
"There's a lot of water damage and a lot of debris floating around," he added. "Ten feet of water washing through town - you can imagine what damage it has done here."
The magnitude-8.0 quake triggered tsunami warnings throughout the South Pacific and as far north as Hawaii, though the alert was canceled after the danger period passed.
Julian McLeod of the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office said there were unconfirmed reports that two villages in the country's far west were flooded.
"Two villages were reported to have been completely inundated," McLeod told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "We have received reports of four people missing."
A town in the west, Munda, was believed to be badly damaged, officials and the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. said, but communications were difficult and details were not confirmed.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck at 7:39 a.m. about 6 miles beneath the sea floor, 217 miles northwest of the capital, Honiara.
The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported the quake at magnitude 8.1, and said a temblor of that strength could cause a destructive tsunami and issued a warning bulletin for the Solomon Islands and neighboring Papua New Guinea.
It ordered a lower-level "tsunami watch" for other places, including most South Pacific countries, but later canceled the alert. The center said a 6-inch wave had been reported in Honiara.
Police Sgt. Godfrey Abiah in Honiara said police in Gizo had received warning about a possible tsunami and were helping people leave the town for higher ground when the wave hit.
"We have lost radio contact with the two police stations down there and we're not getting any clear picture from down there," he told The Associated Press by telephone.