Anxious wait for Solomons paramedic's wife

The wife of a Nelson paramedic working in the Solomon Islands had an anxious time yesterday after a text from her husband telling her he'd been evacuated to high ground ahead of the expected tsunami.

Joy Howell had to wait nearly two hours before a second text from her husband, Barry, saying "all safe now and back at the flat".

At least six people are believed to have been killed in a remote part of the Solomons by a tsunami which followed a powerful 8.0 magnitude earthquake.

Dozens of homes have been destroyed, and a school and an airfield are believed to have been inundated by tsunami surges.

The quake struck yesterday at 2.12pm (NZ time), 340km east of Kira Kira in the Solomons.

Mr Howell, the former Nelson-Marlborough district operations manager for St John Ambulance, is working as an intensive care flight paramedic for Aspen Medical and is based in Honiara on Guadalcanal.

He lives in a camp with 900 military, police and civilians involved in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

He told the Mail from Honiara this morning that the evacuation, to Bloody Hill, a famous World War II battleground overlooking the seaside camp, had been purely a precaution.

"We didn't even feel the earthquake here."

There had been no rise in sea level and the all-clear was given soon after the tsunami's anticipated arrival time had passed, with no sign of a wave.

However, reports were coming in of widespread damage in the remote part of the Solomons close to where the earthquake hit, and he expected the devastation would be severe, Mr Howell said.

"The villages have very simplistically constructed houses and they're all on the coast and exposed to that sort of thing."

The affected islands were a four-hour helicopter flight from Honiara, with a refuelling stop needed on the way, he said.

Mr Howell, who was on night shift last night, said he did not yet know if he would be sent to assist. Mr Howell began a six-week contract on January 13.

Since losing his Nelson job in a St John restructuring last year he has also worked as a paramedic in East Timor and Darwin.

The Nelson Mail