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5 killed, homes swept away as South Pacific quake triggers 3-foot tsunami

Witnesses say two waves about five feet high each hit the west side of the Solomon Islands following an 8.0 magnitude earthquake, resulting in fatalities. TODAY's Al Roker reports.

Updated at 9:40 a.m. ET: At least five people were killed on Wednesday after a strong earthquake in the South Pacific generated a 3 foot tsunami that aid workers said washed away homes and wiped out remote island communities.

A tidal surge moved houses by up to 30 feet, and there were reports of people and fishing boats being washed out to sea, according to local volunteers for humanitarian charity, World Vision.

The magnitude 8.0 quake struck Wednesday about 3 miles under the Santa Cruz Islands, a thinly-populated part of the Solomon Islands that lie east of Papua New Guinea and northeast of Australia, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

A 3 foot wave hit near the town of Lata, swamping some villages and the town's main airport as people fled to safety on higher ground, Reuters reported.

There was no tsunami threat to Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said

According to Reuters, Lata hospital's director of nursing, Augustine Pilve, told New Zealand television that five people had been killed, including a boy aged about ten. Pilve added that more casualties were possible as officials were making their way to villages that may have been hit.

It was not immediately clear if the deaths were caused by the tremor or the tidal surge.

World Vision said two communities in the province of Temotu had been "almost entirely wiped out by a one metre sea surge."

In the town of Venga, with a population of about 750, the surge shifted homes by up to 30 feet, damaging around 90 percent of them, the charity added. Nela, with a population of almost 200 people, saw 95 percent of its homes washed away, the charity said.

"I am currently walking through one community [in Lata], and I'm knee-deep in water," Jeremiah Tabua, World Vision's emergency response coordinator in the Solomon Islands, said in a statement released by the charity. "I can see a number of houses that have been swept away by the surge."

Solomon Islands police commissioner John Lansley told Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the worst hit area was around Lata.

"We understand a part of the airstrip has been damaged, which is going to cause some issues in respect to getting relief aid out there, but that is being assessed at this moment," he said.

The quake struck at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday local time (8:23 p.m. Tuesday ET) and was followed by dozens of aftershocks including a 6.3 magnitude tremor at 5:35 p.m. local time (1:35 a.m. ET) Wednesday. A magnitude-6.0 quake struck at 12:55 a.m. Thursday local time.

USGS officials said the later shocks were "not at all surprising."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued and later cancelled a tsunami warning for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, Wallis and Futana.

A tsunami watch was issued and later cancelled for Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Guam.