Power out, buildings damaged as strong earthquakes hit Solomon Islands

There were no immediate reports of serious structural damage to buildings, but power was out in some areas of the city. PHOTOS: AFP

HONIARA - Two powerful earthquakes struck the Solomon Islands on Tuesday, damaging Australia’s embassy, the airport and shopping malls, and triggering power cuts in the capital, Honiara.

There were no reports of serious injuries or major structural damage, and the authorities said no tsunami warning would be issued.

The first quake hit offshore at a depth of 15km, about 16km south-west of the area of Malango, according to the United States Geological Survey, which initially put its magnitude at 7.3 before revising it down to magnitude 7. A second quake, with a magnitude of 6, struck nearby about half an hour later.

“We have sent a chopper up to fly over, to verify the scope and scale of damage,” said Mr Brian Tomu, a public affairs official with the National Disaster Management Office.

The disaster authority’s focus was Guadalcanal island, where Honiara is located and nearest to the epicentre, he added.

People rushed out of offices in panic, seeking higher ground in the aftermath of the large earthquake, Mr Tomu said.

“There are no known injuries but the roof of the High Commission annex has collapsed, which would point to likely damage throughout the city,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told Parliament.

Honiara International Airport suffered damage to its ceiling but the building was intact, a Solomon Airlines worker at the airport said.

Aftershocks continued to be felt, he said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to speak publicly. Airport staff would continue working but the damaged section of the airport terminal was closed to passengers.

The Solomon Islands Meteorological Service said there was no tsunami threat, but warned about unusual sea currents.

The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation said on Facebook that all radio services had gone off the air.

“This was a big one,” said Ms Joy Nisha, a receptionist with the Heritage Park Hotel in the capital. “Some of the things in the hotel fell. Everyone seems OK, but panicky.”

Residents stay in the open in downtown of Honiara after a strong earthquake on Nov 22, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

At one recently built mall, chunks of cladding were shaken loose, crushing the bonnet of a car and breaking the windshield.

An AFP reporter in Honiara said the shaking lasted for about 20 seconds. Power was knocked out immediately in some areas of the capital. Phone lines were also down.

The Solomon Times newspaper reported that power had been cut for most of Honiara, as preliminary assessments of damage to power lines were being made.

“I was really scared because this is the first time I felt this kind of earthquake,” said a manager at the Pacific Casino Hotel, who asked not to be named. “The building was really violently shaking,” she said. “It was really strong, it made you move side to side.”

Dozens of staff and guests fled the building to the relative safety of the carpark, hoping not to be hit by debris on the way out.

The nation’s Attorney-General John Muria posted images on social media of office files that had spilt from several large metal filing cabinets.

As nightfall approached on Tuesday, power was starting to return to Honiara, but the local authorities urged caution.

“We expect aftershocks so people should stay alert around buildings and tall structures because of the size of the earthquake,” said Mr David Hiba Hiriasia, director of the Solomon Islands Meteorological Service.

Staff at one hospital were readying to evacuate patients if needed.

According to United Nations data, about 20,000 people live within 50km of the epicentre.

The Solomons – a sprawling archipelago in the South Pacific – is home to about 800,000 people. The quake hit exactly a year after anti-government riots that killed at least three people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. AFP, REUTERS

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