Wednesday morning was a scary one for folks within about a thousand miles of the Solomon Islands, where an 8.0-magnitude earthquake generated a tsunami that spread across the region. While the quakes epicenter 211 miles east of Kira Kira in the Solomons, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued official warnings for everyone from Australia to Fiji to Indonesia to New Zealand — and a lot of other countries, too. More far-reaching areas along the Pacific Rim like Alaska, British Columbia and the West Coast are not expected to be affected. The Hawaii-based center said that it observed displacements in the sea level indicative of a "potentially destructive" tsunami, and people living in coastal waters evacuated to higher ground.
"People are still standing on the hills outside of [Solomon Islands capital] Honiara just looking out over the water, trying to observe if there is a wave coming in," George Herning, the Solomons' prime minister, told the press some time after the quake had hit. They did not see a wave. The only area that had actually been hit by a tsunami at the time of this writing was Lhata wharf in the Solomon Islands. It was three feet high. However, the Solomon Islands archipelago is full of tiny islands, many of them very poor, who could be seriously affected by even the smallest tsunami. And that's assuming they made it through the initial quake or its many powerful aftershocks without too much destruction. As many as 20 earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.1 or above hit the Solomon Islands on Wednesday.
While warnings remain in effect, its unlikely that Solomon Islanders are going to let down their guard any time soon. A strikingly similar 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit to the west of the Solomons, generating a wall of water that slammed into the coastlines of several islands and sucked houses out to sea. The seismic force of the event was so powerful that it literally lifted an entire island meters above the ocean floor and then dropped it, causing extreme damage to the surrounding coral reef in the process. The island's geography also changed completely in the process. In the end, more than 50 people were killed, and thousands more were left homeless.
With at least another hour or two to go until the tsunami warnings expire, it was still too soon to tell if this year's Solomon Islands earthquake will be a disaster or a dodged bullet as people on the East Coast headed to bed. It's already proved to be very scary show of force on Mother Nature's part. Not that we need any, these days.
Check for overnight updates at these official weather services
- West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center
- Twitter list of local sources in the Solomon Islands (compiled by Storyful)
- Small tsunami hits Solomons after major quake (with updates via Reuters)