HONIARA, Solomon Islands - A powerful earthquake struck off the Solomon Islands on Monday, sending a tsunami wave crashing into villages on the country's west coast and leaving at least four people missing, officials said.
The quake, measured at magnitude 7.6 and 8.1, triggered tsunami warnings throughout the South Pacific and as far north as Hawaii, though officials cancelled the alert after the danger period passed.
Police in the western town of Gizo reported a wave several yards high crashing ashore, shortly before communications with the two police stations in the town were cut, said Sgt. Godfrey Abiah in the capital, Honiara.
Harry Wickham, a hotel worker in Gizo, told New Zealand television many buildings along the waterfront had been damaged.
"There was 10 feet of water rushing through town, there's been damage," he said.
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."
National broadcaster Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. said there was "serious damage" in Gizo and that the nearby town of Munda had also suffered "some damage" to buildings and property.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-7.6 earthquake struck at 7:39 a.m. about 6 miles beneath the sea floor, 217 miles northwest of 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 cancelled the alert. The center said a 6-inch wave had been reported in Honiara.
Abiah said police in Gizo had been warning residents to move to higher ground away from the coast when the tsunami hit. Communications were lost soon afterward.
"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.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Deli Oso, said the quake was felt in Honiara but there were no reports of any damage.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology also set the earthquake's magnitude at 8.1, but said it had detected no tsunami threat for Australia's northeast coast.
"At this stage, the warning remains current but we have not detected anything abnormal," said spokesman Peter Jarrott.
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A powerful earthquake struck off the Solomon Islands on Monday, sending a tsunami wave crashing into villages on the country's west coast and leaving at least four people missing, officials said.