SYDNEY (AP) — A strong aftershock rattled the Solomon Islands on Friday morning, forcing the South Pacific country's prime minister to forgo a visit to remote villages ravaged by a tsunami that killed at least nine people.
Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo was on a plane to Santa Cruz Island in the eastern Solomons to assess damage when the aftershock hit, said Silas Lilo, a spokesman for his office. The plane was forced to return to the capital Honiara.
There were no immediate reports of further damage or casualties. The 6.6-magnitude aftershock was one of many since the 8.0 earthquake that set off Wednesday's tsunami.
Waves 1.5-meter (5-foot) tall roared inland on Santa Cruz, damaging or destroying an estimated 100 homes across five villages.
Five elderly villagers and a child who couldn't outrun the rushing water were killed, said George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister. Three more bodies were found Thursday, but Herming said details of how those victims died were not immediately available.
Several others are missing and dozens of strong aftershocks were keeping frightened villagers from returning to the coast, Herming said.
"People are still scared of going back to their homes because there's nothing left, so they are residing in temporary shelters on higher ground," Herming said.
Disaster officials were en route to the isolated area Thursday after the local airport, which was flooded by the tsunami, was finally cleared of debris.
The Solomons comprise more than 200 islands with a population of about 552,000 people. They lie on the "Ring of Fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific Rim and where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur.
More than 50 people were killed and thousands lost their homes in April 2007 when a magnitude-8.1 quake hit the western Solomon Islands and a tsunami crashed into coastal villages.