A major earthquake registering at magnitude 8 has hit near the Solomon Islands, with the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) issuing a tsunami warning for a wide swathe of islands in the South Pacific.
The quake struck at a depth of 5.8km at 11.07am AEDT on Wednesday, near the Santa Cruz Islands, which are part of the Solomon Islands nation, and sea level readings indicate a tsunami has been generated.
The quake has been placed 70 kilometres west of Lata and nearly 600 kilometres from the national capital, Honiara. A Solomon Islands hospital director said villages had been destroyed by the initial earthquake.
The PTWC said "sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated".
"It may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicentre and could also be a threat to more distant coasts. Authorities should take appropriate action in response to this possibility," the PTWC said.
"This centre will continue to monitor sea level data to determine the extent and severity of the threat."
Earlier, the PTWC warned that the large quake could trigger a "destructive tsunami" near the epicentre.
The Bureau of Meteorology said there was no tsunami threat to Australia. However a tsunami watch has been issued for Australia and New Zealand, and all the way to Indonesia.
The PTWC has issued a tsunami warning for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futuna.
A tsunami measuring 0.9 metres has hit the Solomon Islands, the US Tsunami warning centre said, according to Reuters.
The director at Lata Hospital on the main Santa Cruz island of Ndende said villages had been destroyed by the quake.
"The information we are getting is that some villages west and south of Lata along the coast have been destroyed, although we cannot confirm this yet,’’ the director said.
The Solomon Islands' National Disaster Management office advised those living in low-lying areas, especially Makira and Malaita, to move to higher ground.
A staff member at the office said officials were concerned about the eastern province of Temotu.
"That’s the province, which if it is going to have an effect, then they will be the first people to be impacted," the official, who did not wish to be named, told AFP. "They felt the quake."
He said first reports from the area were that there was a tsunami wave, but he had no further information.
He added that the national disaster operation centre had been activated and they were trying to contact those in Temotu province.
An Australian working in Honiara first learned of the earthquake when contacted by Fairfax Media.
"There is no panic on the streets. People are going on like any normal day," he said.
"We really have not heard anything about it nor that there is an imminent threat. Everything seems calm as usual."
The Solomon Islands form part of the Ring of Fire, a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific Ocean that is subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Megan Levy, with Ilya Gridneff, AFP and Reuters