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SYDNEY (AP) -- At least four people are missing and presumed dead after a powerful earthquake off the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific generated a tsunami up to five feet tall.

USGSreal-time quake map

It damaged dozens of homes in the island chain.

One of the people presumed dead was fishing in a dugout canoe when the first wave hit, sweeping him out to sea. A woman was believed to have drowned when the water rushed into her village.

Officials say four villages in the island of Santa Cruz were hit by the waves, with two of them suffering severe damage. A spokesman for the prime minister says between 70 and 80 homes and other properties were damaged there.

Many of the villagers had fled to higher ground as a precaution before the tsunami hit.

The quake -- with a magnitude 8.0 -- has been followed by dozens of aftershocks.

Disaster officials have been struggling to reach the remote area. The tsunami flooded the airstrip at the nearest airport, leaving it littered with debris.

Authorities canceled warnings for tsunamis on more distant coasts.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami of about three feet was measured in Lata wharf, in the Solomon Islands. Smaller waves were recorded in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

The center cancelled earlier warnings for tsunami waves further away.


Richard Dapo, a school principal on an island near Santa Cruz, said he lives inland but has been fielding calls from families on the coast whose homes have been damaged by the waves.

I try to tell the people living on the coastline, 'Move inland, find a higher place. Make sure to keep away from the sea. Watch out for waves,' he said.

He said he's heard the waves have swamped some smaller islands, although he's not aware of any deaths or serious injuries at this point. He said it's difficult to contact people because cellphone coverage is patchy in the region.

In Honiara, the warnings had prompted residents to flee for higher ground.

People are still standing on the hills outside of Honiara just looking out over the water, trying to observe if there is a wave coming in, said Herming, the prime minister's spokesman.

Atenia Tahu, who works for the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. in Honiara, said most people were remaining calm.

People around the coast and in the capital are ringing in and trying to get information from us and the National Disaster Office and are slowly moving up to higher ground, Tahu said. But panic? No, no, no, people are not panicking.

Dr. Rooney Jagilly, the medical superintendent at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara, said the hospital asked about half its 200 patients to leave and stay with family or friends as a precautionary measure because the hospital is located near the shoreline. Those patients who weren't mobile enough to move stayed, but the hospital remained ready to evacuate them.

Jagilly said there had been no flooding and he hoped the hospital would return to normal Thursday.

He said his staff was ready to mobilize to Santa Cruz because the small hospital there has no doctor after the previous one died recently.

An official at the disaster management office in Vanuatu said there were no reports of damage or injuries there.

More than 50 people were killed and thousands lost their homes in April 2007 when a magnitude 8.1 quake hit the western Solomon Islands, sending waves crashing into coastal villages.

The Solomons comprise more than 200 islands with a population of about 552,000 people. They lie on the Ring of Fire - an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific

Rim and where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck 50 miles west of Lata, at a depth of 3.6 miles.

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