At least 12 people were killed after a powerful earthquake in the South Pacific sent a tsunami wave into the Solomon Islands.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said a tsunami warning was in effect for other Pacific Rim countries including Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, after the earthquake, which had a magnitude of at least 8.0.

Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation said residents on the Simbo Islands had reported waves travelling up to 200 metres, while a government official said about 60 buildings appeared to have collapsed.

In Australia, a tsunami threat led to widespread panic this morning.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology warned a possible tsunami could affect the east coast after 9am local time.

In an unprecedented move, beaches in Queensland and New South Wales were closed and evacuated, flights and ferry services were cancelled and many people living in costal areas fled to higher ground.

The bureau says the threat of a tsunami has now passed but warned that there may be a small rise in sea levels.

However, other officials have warned that the tsunami could still wreak damage in other areas of the Pacific.