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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Solomon Islands Hit By Deadly Tsunami

HONIARA, Solomon Islands -- Huge waves churned by a massive earthquake crashed ashore in the Solomon Islands on Monday, wiping away entire villages and triggering a tsunami alert from Australia to Hawaii, officials said.

At least 13 people were reported killed and the toll was expected to rise.

Julian Makaa, spokesman for the Solomons National Disaster Management Office, said numerous villages in the South Pacific nation's remote west were reporting that people were swept away as waves plowed through their communities.

The reports remained sketchy because communication was reduced to scratchy two-way radio lines, and emergency officials struggled to reach outlying areas.

Alfred Maesulia, the information director in Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's office, said late Monday that 13 people had been killed and an unknown number remained missing. "It's possible that number [of dead] will increase, maybe double up or even more," Maesulia said.

"Some people were seen floating on the sea during the big waves but it was very difficult to go near them," he said.

The bone-rattling quake struck shortly after 7:39 a.m., just 10 kilometers beneath the sea floor about 350 kilometers northwest of the Solomon Islands' capital, Honiara, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

"It was just a noise like an underground explosion," said Dorothy Parkinson, a Gizo resident. "The wave came almost instantaneously. Everything that was standing is flattened."

Within five minutes of the quake, waves between three meters and five meters high roared ashore and went as far as a kilometer inland, inundating buildings and sending thousands fleeing for higher ground, witnesses said.

Soon after the tremor, the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued bulletins for the Pacific region.

Maesulia said residents of Simbo, Choiseul and Ranunga islands near Gizo also reported deaths and widespread destruction.

"There are reports that some villages were completely washed away," he said. "Sasamungga village is quite a big village. ... It was reported that 300 houses were completely destroyed in that village alone."

Up to 4,000 people who fled to a hill behind the town may be in need of emergency shelter and other supplies, Maesulia said. Strong aftershocks continued throughout the day, adding to fears.

Solomon Islands deputy police commissioner Peter Marshall said three military helicopters would fly to the stricken region on Tuesday with supplies for those left homeless.

He said a national state of emergency had been declared.

The damage appeared to be localized in the country's west, with a surge of just 15 centimeters recorded in Honiara.

Papua New Guinea's health minister said there were no reports of damage in his country.

Australian officials closed beaches along the length of the country's east coast, stopped ferry services in Sydney and warned fishing boats to return to port in precautionary measures that were lifted by the end of the day.