A powerful 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Wednesday off the Solomon Islands in the western Pacific Ocean and  generated a “potentially destructive” tsunami, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

It occurred at 3:12 p.m. Tuesday Hawaii timeKHON reported.

The quake occurred at a depth nearly 3.6 miles (5.8 km) close to the Santa Cruz Islands, which are part of the Solomon Islands nation, according to the USGS. This was later revised to a much deeper 17 miles (28.7 km).

The epicenter of the quake occurred 347 km east of Kira Kira in the Solomons, Reuters added.

A three-foot wave hit the island of Lata, and One News of New Zealand quoted the director of nursing at Lata Hospital, Augustine Bilve, saying some villages have been destroyed by the tsunami.

"According to the information I have there are three villages close to Lata, but it's more likely that other villages along the coast of Santa Cruz would also be affected."

He says hundreds of people live in the villages. "So far we don't have any casualty yet but it might be too early due to transport difficulties." 

One News also reported that coastal schools have been closed in Fiji, and that people in Kiribati, which is barely above sea level, have evacuated to a stadium.

Lesser tsunami waves also hit Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

Police in the small town of Kira Kira, on San Christobal Island in the Solomons, told Reuters they felt the quake, but there were no reports of any damage from the quake or a tsunami.

"We felt the shock. We have warned people to get to higher ground," said officer Samuel Tora.

A tsunami warning was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii for the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Kosrae, Fiji, Kiribati, and Wallis and Futuna Islands. A tsunami watch was issued for Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia.

The center canceled all watches and warnings two and half hours later.   

In Honiara, the Solomons capital, the warning prompted residents to flee for higher ground, the Associated Press reported.

"People are still standing on the hills outside of Honiara just looking out over the water, trying to observe if there is a wave coming in," government spokesman George Herming said. So far, he had received no reports that a wave had been observed in Honiara.

Atenia Tahu, who works for the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp. in Honiara, said most people were remaining calm.

"People around the coast and in the capital are ringing in and trying to get information from us and the National Disaster Office and are slowly moving up to higher ground," Tahu said. "But panic? No, no, no, people are not panicking."

The Solomon Islands make up part of the Ring of Fire, the BBC noted. It is a zone of volcanic arcs and oceanic trenches that encircle the Pacific basin.

After the 8.0 earthquake occurred, there have been numerous aftershocks, the largest of which was measured at a 6.4 magnitude.

Before the powerful 8.0 quake, the region had reportedly been experiencing mini quakes in recent days.

"There was no immediate report of damages or any accidents," Herming told the Associated Press. "We've been hoping that reports will come in from the responsible authorities ... very soon."

The Solomons were hit by a devastating tsunami following an 8.1 magnitude quake in 2007. At least 50 people were killed and dozens left missing and more than 13 villages destroyed.

As news began to break, concerned Twitter users took to the social media site:

@RyanWesleySmith wrote, “#PrayForSPIslands as the Soloman Islands have just suffered an 8.0 earthquake sending a possible tsunami to the South Pacific Islands. RT!”