This photo shows the impact of a 2007 tsunami that battered the country. Photo: AusAID
This photo shows the impact of a 2007 tsunami that battered the country. Photo: AusAID

The Solomon Islands escaped major casualties and damage after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the archipelago in the early hours of Friday, sending people scrambling for higher ground to escape any possible tsunami triggered by the temblor.

“There was a power cut early this morning for about 90 minutes and we operated on our stand-by generator; but power was restored before the start of normal working hours,” said Mike Batty, who works in the capital Honiara for the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, a group that aims to improve fisheries management in the region.

The forum’s headquarters is a designated tsunami evacuation center for the main hospital, which is cited on the seafront, he said. “So we opened up our main conference hall early this morning for a few nervous patients; but … they have now returned to the hospital.”

More than 20 aftershocks were recorded around the Solomon Islands since the main quake, according to the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology.

Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates said several villages had evacuated to higher ground, but that there were no reports of deaths. A helicopter had been sent to survey the damage at Malaita, which is home to about a quarter of the Solomon Islands population of 600,000, he told Reuters.

From the archives: Quakes, tsunamis & plate tectonics

The Solomon Islands faces long journey toward development

The US Geological Survey downgraded the quake, which struck at 4:38am local time, to magnitude 7.8 from an original reading of 8.0. Still, that makes it the four most powerful shocks so far this year alongside ones in New Zealand, Ecuador and Indonesia.

The quake comes just two days after a 6.5 magnitude event in Indonesia’s Aceh province killed more than 100 people. Aceh was the center of the December 26, 2004 quake and tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people.

A map showing where the quake struck. Photo: US Geological Survey

The Solomons, perched on the geologically active “Pacific Ring of Fire,” were hit by a devastating tsunami following an 8.1 magnitude quake in 2007. At least 50 people were killed then and dozens left missing and more than 13 villages destroyed.

In 2013, a quake set off a tsunami which killed at least five people in the chain of more than 900 islands, the site of several major battles during World War Two.

The world sees on average 17 earthquakes of 7-7.9 magnitude, the US Geological Survey’s data show. More than 800,000 people have died in quakes and their aftermaths in the decade and a half before this year.