Strong earthquake shakes the Solomon Islands to its foundations, causing people to flee

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A powerful magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the Solomon Islands Tuesday afternoon, toppling tables and sending people to higher ground.

There were no immediate reports of widespread damage or injuries, although Australia’s prime minister said a High Commission roof had collapsed. An initial tsunami warning was withdrawn after the threat passed.

Solomon Islands government spokesman George Herming said he was in his office on the second floor of a building in the capital Honiara when the earthquake shook the city to its foundations. He said he crawled under his table.

“It’s a huge one that shocked everyone,” Herming said.

“We have tables and desks, books and everything scattered everywhere because of the earthquake, but there is no major damage to structure or buildings,” he said.

Herming said the Solomon Islands, home to about 700,000 people, has no large high-rises that could be vulnerable to an earthquake. He said there was some panic in the city and traffic congestion as everyone tried to drive to higher ground.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said all Australia High Commission staff were safe.

“There are no known injuries, but the roof of the High Commission annex has collapsed, which would indicate likely damage throughout the city,” Albanese told parliament.

“Staff have been moved to higher ground because a tsunami warning was issued. Our High Commission is trying to confirm the safety of all Australians in the Solomon Islands. There are problems because the phone lines are down. So there are communication problems,” Albanese added.

Freelance journalist Charley Piringi said he was outside schools on the outskirts of Honiara when the earthquake sent children fleeing.

“The earthquake shook the place to its foundations,” he said. “It was a huge one. We were all shocked and everyone is running everywhere.”

The quake’s epicenter was in the ocean about 56 kilometers (35 miles) southwest of Honiara at a depth of 13 kilometers (8 miles), according to the US Geological Survey.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially warned of potentially dangerous waves for the region, but later lowered a tsunami warning when the threat passed.

The Solomon Islands lie on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc along the edge of the Pacific Ocean where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.

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Associated Press reporter Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

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