By Priestley Habru

Special to Pacific Islands Report

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (April 3) – Solomon Islands police have confirmed that four people have died from the tsunami that hit the country early yesterday.

Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Marshall told reporters today that the dead were reported at Sasamunga in Choiseul Province and Gizo in the Western Province.

[PIR editor’s note: Other news reports today placed the death toll as high as 20.]

Sasamunga village is situated in Choiseul Province, west of Gizo, which is the headquarters of Western Province.

But reports said the total number of deaths from the quake and the tsunami may rise.

The tidal wave was triggered by an earthquake, which struck the Western Solomons at around 7.30 a.m. local time.

Reports said the quake was located 45 kilometres south of the New Georgia Islands in the Western Solomons at a depth of 10 kilometers and measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale.

Marshall also confirmed that a total of 20 houses were destroyed in different locations of Western Solomons.

Provincial workers in Gizo, Munda and Noro were ordered to leave their offices and move to safer places.

Initial warnings issued for residents of capital Honiara and provincial headquarters of Auki and Kirakira in the eastern parts of Solomons have now ceased.

But the Guadalcanal Provincial Secretariat has warned its residents living in low-lying areas to move to safer grounds.

Honiara, which is situated in the north-central coast of Guadalcanal, is on alert, but the NDMO has warned people not to panic.

Meanwhile Government Communication Officer George Herming reported that two people were confirmed dead and the toll might rise.

An elderly man and a child were reported dead and several people feared missing.

Unconfirmed reports said health centers, schools and offices were also reported destroyed in Sasamunga and Munda in parts of Western Solomons apart from Gizo town.

Reports also said, residents at Noro town residing near the sea were transported to higher grounds following warnings by the NDMO.

The Solomons are part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ where continental plates meet and frequently experiences volcanic and seismic activity.

Assistant Police Commissioner Marshall added that six houses were destroyed and a child suffered a broken arm in Ringi Cove in the island of Kolombangara in the Western Solomons.

"It could be a long time before we could visit all affected areas and take time to asses the exact damages," he told reporters in a press conference today.

He said a final report for the day by the National Disaster Management Office in the capital Honiara would be issued by 8 p.m. local time.

Marshall said a Participatory Police Force (PPF) aircraft and police officers were deployed to the Western Solomons to assess the damage.

A chopper with medical supplies was also deployed by the Solomon Islands Police with help from the Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI) to assess the situation in the Western Solomons.

"We have the necessary resources to assist in the damage, but we have to assess the damages before deploying the supplies. We have been receiving reports on damages, but the difficulty is communication."

Reports also said communication by telephone to Gizo and parts of Western Solomons have been cut due to the tsunami.

Marshall said he was satisfied working in coordinated manner with other stakeholders like the Red Cross in Gizo during these difficult times.

He acknowledged the very large geographical location of the archipelago of islands and now awaits first hand reports from a helicopter that was send to assess the damage in the Western Solomons

The New Zealander noted that a commercial vessel was also deployed to the affected islands to assist in the assessment of the damages.

He said the police was able to verify the exact injuries and damage to people and their properties.

The people of Western Solomon Islands, which have several islands and two provinces, have moved to higher ground since this morning.

Meanwhile, Solomon Airlines has indefinitely suspended domestic flights to Nusatupe airstrip near Gizo after reports of destruction early yesterday due to tsunami following an earthquake in the country.

Nusatupe airstrip is located in an island off Gizo township which was partly damaged by the earthquake and the eventual tsunami.

Continual tremor was being felt at the Western Solomons as National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) warned people to move to higher grounds.

However domestic flights to other parts of the Western Solomons are on schedule except for Nusatupe airstrip in Gizo.

Reports said an assessment team led by the NDMO would be flown yesterday or today to Gizo to assess the damage.

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