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7.8 quake: South Pacific on tsunami alert

SOLOMON ISLANDS — A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit close to the Solomon Islands early Friday, putting that nation and others in the South Pacific on alert for a tsunami.

“Based on all available data, a tsunami may have been generated by this earthquake that could be destructive on coastal areas, even far from the epicenter. An investigation is underway to determine if there is a tsunami threat to Hawaii,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The earthquake hit less than 30 kilometers off the island of Makira — and 70 kilometers southwest of the city of Kirakira on that island — about 4:38 a.m. local time Friday (12:38 p.m. ET Thursday).

A tsunami is possible in the next three hours along some coasts of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, New Caledonia, Tuvalu and Kosrae, the PTWC said.

“The earthquake was one of the biggest and longest I have ever felt,” said Tali Hong, a resident of the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara, some 200 kilometers northwest of the epicenter. “I was born here in Honiara and lived here most of my life.

“I’m located in central Honiara, in one of the big urban areas. Just checked with my neighbors and surrounding area; there is not visible damage. However, we have no electricity at the moment.”

Minutes after the major quake, another — magnitude 5.5 — hit in the same area.

Makira, also known as San Cristobal, is one of the southernmost parts of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago located hundreds of kilometers northeast of Australia that is home to more than 500,000 people.