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SYDNEY/WELLINGTON, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the Solomon Islands early on Friday, but there were no immediate reports of casualties and a tsunami warning for a wide swath of the South Pacific was later lifted. Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates said he had received reports of collapsed buildings in villages in Makira, the island closest to the epicenter of the massive undersea quake, which had initially prompted a tsunami watch as far afield as Hawaii. "Villages that we have made contact with have evacuated, actually most of the communities that we have spoken with had already evacuated," Yates told Reuters. "They called us from the hills, which is good." Yates said he had not received any reports of deaths.
The U.S. Geological Survey downgraded the quake, which struck at 4:38 a.m. (1738 GMT Thursday), to magnitude 7.8 from an original reading of 8.0. It put the depth at around 40 km (25 miles). The U.S.-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) had issued warnings for the Solomon Islands and neighboring island chains of a potentially hazardous tsunami, but a couple of hours after the quake it said the threat had passed. An initial tsunami watch alert for Hawaii had earlier been canceled.