Catford said his agency estimated that 15 villages and up to 7,000 people had been affected, many of them losing homes. But earlier fears that the tsunami may have wiped out villages on other islands eased Friday after the first aerial flyover of the region confirmed the damage was limited to Santa Cruz, Catford said.
Nine bodies have been pulled from the wreckage, including five elderly villagers and a child who couldn't outrun the rushing water, said George Herming, a spokesman for the prime minister. Several other people were still missing.
The relentless aftershocks were forcing thousands of villagers who fled inland after the original quake to stay away from the coastline.
"Many of them have lost their homes and they have no shelter at the moment," Herming said. "They are still residing on high ground because of the fear of the aftershocks."
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.
Associated Press writers Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
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