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Tsunami destroys 13 villages, over 20 killed in Solomon Islands

SOLOMON ISLANDS: Thirteen villages were destroyed when a tsunami spawned by a huge earthquake slammed into the Solomon Islands, killing at least 20 people and leaving many more missing, police said Tuesday.

The government declared a state of emergency following Monday's tsunami, generated by an 8.0-magnitude quake off the islands' west coast, as officials warned the death toll would rise further as extent of the devastation emerged.

Rescuers raced to the remote disaster area by plane and boat to help victims and assess the loss of life and property. Witnesses reported bodies floating in the sea after waves up to five meters (16.5 feet) high smashed the islands.

As many as 4,000 terrified survivors huddled on hills overlooking the shattered resort town of Gizo as repeated aftershocks with magnitudes of up to 6.7 shook the area violently throughout the night, provincial officials said.

As day broke, the level of destruction began to emerge from the Western Province and Gizo, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the quake's epicentre.

Solomon Islands police spokesman Mick Spinks said that 13 coastal villages had been reported destroyed, confirming earlier official reports that entire communities had been wiped out.

"Virtually all the houses have been destroyed" in the affected villages, he told AFP as authorities warned the public to brace for more bad news.

"We are now of a view that here are about 20 confirmed dead overall, but I am rather fearful that the number will increase today as we get around the various locations," said Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Marshall.

He said "many more" people were missing, while Sky news in Australia reported that hundreds of people remained unaccounted for. The government information service Tuesday quoted a former Solomon Islands governor-general, Sir Moses Pitakaka, saying from Gizo that thousands were homeless there after Monday's quake-spawned tsunami.

Pitakaka said thousands more were likely to have lost their homes in other affected areas in the west of the impoverished South Pacific country.

The Solomon Islands Red Cross estimated approximately 2,000 people, or 10 percent of Gizo's population, were now homeless. Some 500 houses may have been damaged or destroyed.

Preliminary reports from other islands suggest similar or worse levels of damage, the government said in a statement.

The disaster rekindled memories of the Asian tsunami catastrophe of December 2004, which killed 220,000 people.

The Solomons Island Disaster Council coordinator Julian Makaa told the Australian Boradcasting Corporation that 916 houses were destroyed and more than 5,000 people were affected, according to the latest reports.

"The main number of the deaths were in Gizo, where a number of villages were affected," Marshall said, referring to the seaside community of around 20,000 people which is popular with scuba divers.

"It's been a long night for a lot of people, in the area of Gizo in particular. There is no electricity and there have been a lot of tremors overnight and people have had to move to higher ground," he said.

Solomon Island police and members of an Australian-led regional peacekeeping force were planning to overfly the western islands Tuesday to get an accurate impression of the death and destruction.

"There are many, many little islands up there and you just don't know how many people are resident of the islands," Spinks said.

The US Geological Survey recorded at least 10 quakes measuring between 5.0 and 6.2 in magnitude overnight, further rattling thousands of survivors in Gizo who were either left homeless or who were too scared to remain indoors.

"My heart goes out to all of you in this very trying time," Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in an address to the impoverished South Pacific nation late Monday. He also warned the death toll would probably rise. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre on Monday issued a regionwide warning immediately after the quake, stretching as far as Japan, but only the Solomons was seriously affected.

Solomon Islands, Tuesday, AFP.


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