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Solomon Islands earthquake: 7.8 quake puts South Pacific on tsunami alert

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Dangerous waves are heading to some coasts in the South Pacific after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit close to the Solomon Islands early Friday, forecasters said.

“Based on all available data, hazardous tsunami waves are forecast for some coasts,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The earthquake hit less than 30 kilometers off the island of Makira — and 70 kilometers southwest of the island’s city of Kirakira — about 4:38 a.m. local time Friday (12:38 p.m. ET Thursday), the US Geological Survey said.

Waves measuring 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet) above tidal levels are possible along some coasts of the Solomon Islands, and waves under 1 meter above tides are possible for the coasts of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, the tsunami warning center said.

Power outages in capital

“The earthquake was one of the biggest and longest I have ever felt,” said Tali Hong, a resident of the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal some 200 kilometers northwest of the epicenter. “I was born here in Honiara and lived here most of my life.

“I’m located in central Honiara, in one of the big urban areas. Just checked with my neighbors and surrounding area; there is not visible damage. However, we have no electricity at the moment.”

At the capital’s Heritage Park Hotel along the waterfront, awakened guests came out of their rooms to assess what was happening, said Richard Konari, a receptionist there. Things appeared to be returning to normal, he said.

“I have not seen any damage, but the feeling was like nothing I’ve experienced,” Konari said. “It was a more powerful feeling than I’ve felt in the past.”

A receptionist at Honiara’s Pacific Casino Hotel said the shaking — about five minutes long — made it feel like she was floating on water. She said she isn’t aware of any damage to the building.

“We don’t experience quakes like this. It’s big,” she said.

Another tremor follows

Minutes after the major quake, another — magnitude 5.5 — hit in the same area.

A tsunami watch that had been issued for Hawaii following the first quake was canceled, the PTWC said.

Along the ‘Ring of Fire’

Makira, also known as San Cristobal, is one of the southernmost parts of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago located hundreds of kilometers northeast of Australia that is home to more than 500,000 people.

The Solomon Islands are along the “Ring of Fire,” a zone of seismic activity and volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a vast area where about 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur, according to the USGS.

The ring, which actually is shaped more like a horseshoe, includes more than 400 underwater volcanoes and stretches 25,000 miles from New Zealand, past Japan, across the Bering Strait and down to the tip of South America.