PACOM ready to give tsunami aid to Solomon Islands
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — U.S. forces in the Pacific are carefully watching the situation in the Solomon Islands following a powerful undersea earthquake that spawned a tsunami that swept over at least one village and killed at least 13 people.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured magnitude-8.0 and struck at 7:39 a.m. about 6 miles beneath the sea floor, 217 miles northwest of the capital, Honiara.
Some residents described a wave up to 16 feet tall.
“We ran for our lives, away from the waves,” Arnold Pidakere, a schoolteacher in Gizo, told the British Broadcasting Corp. “When we looked back, we saw our house being destroyed.”
Gizo, with a population of about 20,000, is about 25 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter. Early reports stated some 2,000 people in the area were left homeless.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare warned that the number of dead was likely to rise: “I think we are expecting more.”
“Prudent planning would be that we watch the situation very closely, and we are,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jason Salata, media officer for the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, on Monday. “We are in contact with the U.S. State Department representatives in the Solomon Islands. However, so far no requests for assistance have been made.”
Salata is a veteran of tsunami relief efforts in the region. He was in Jakarta, Indonesia, when an earthquake caused massive tsunami waves that tore across the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26, 2004, killing thousands in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Three days after that disaster, U.S. military forces, including more than 600 members of the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, spearheaded disaster relief efforts, treating more than 2,200 people and delivering some 4,000 tons of supplies, according to PACOM.
“If requested, we’ll be ready to respond quickly,” Salata said. “However, any requests for assistance will be made first through the State Department.”
No such requests had been made as of Monday afternoon.
The Hawaii-based Tsunami Warning Center initially issued a bulletin for the entire Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and eastern Australia, but no other areas appeared to have been affected.
The islands are on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and earthquake fault lines that encircle the Pacific Basin.
Gizo resident Judith Kennedy said water “right up to your head” swept through the town.
“All the houses near the sea were flattened,” she told The Associated Press by telephone. “The downtown area is a very big mess from the tsunami and the earthquake,” she added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.