Solomon Islands flooding sweeps away people, homes
A major disaster is hitting the Solomon Islands with aid workers expecting a big death toll from flash flooding and a developing cyclone.
"Red Cross workers were pulling people out of a river... but they saw many many more people floating by that could not be saved," Oxfam's Solomon Islands' Country Director Katie Greenwood told Fairfax NZ this morning.
"In terms of the death toll we are expecting it to rise rapidly."
So far three deaths have been confirmed.
A New Zealand aid worker, who did not want to be named, said five bodies have been found this morning washed up on the Honiara store.
The workers said the weather was worsening.
There were also people stranded at the airport, including a New Zealander, the worker said.
Authorities will meet with aid donors later this morning and both New Zealand and Australia were expected to help but the only airport on Guadalcanal, Henderson Field, was flooded and No flights were operating.
Intense rain and flash flooding has destroyed large parts of the infrastructure of the capital Honiara and bridges have been taken out.
The country's hospital has been evacuated to higher ground as authorities fear a storm surge.
Banks, shops and the building housing the New Zealand High Commission have been damaged.
Greenwood said for a country that has experienced tsunamis, earthquakes, cyclones and ethnic conflict, this might be the worst has suffered.
"I don't think we have even seen the worst of the weather yet."
She said local authorities believe at least 10,000 people have lost their homes in settlements along the banks of the rivers that run through Honiara. Chinatown has been badly hit by the Mataniko River and looting broke out there last night.
No clear picture has emerged over what is happening in Guadalcanal's rural districts.
State-controlled Solomon Islands Broadcasting said the flooding Mataniko River had swept away homes and livestock, and a number of people being found in Ironbottom Sound.
The director of the National Disaster Management Office Loti Yates said heavy rain was causing flash floods.
"Not only that, it won't help when our drainage systems in the city are not working properly, contributing to the floods," he said.
"I was sad to notice the fact that there were children, and women carrying little kids in the rain, trying to evacuate themselves from the flooded areas, and in some places it seems people's belongings have been washed away by the Mataniko floods."
The Solomon Star said three deaths had been confirmed but many were missing.
On the Guadalcanal plains, hundreds of villagers were heading for the hills last night as flooding took away homes.
"This is the worst disaster the nation has seen," the newspaper said.
The Solomon Times said police were appealing to the public to refrain from illegal activities, with reports emerging that shops in Honiara's Chinatown had been looted.
"We will deal with those culprits severely," a police officer said
"It is sad that people choose to take advantage of such desperate situations."
The Solomons, with a population of 550,000, is one of the poorest nations in the South Pacific and is only now recovering from years of ethnic conflict on Guadalcanal.
In April 2006 the Chinatown area of Honiara was destroyed in political-related violence and looting.
The Solomon Islands Meteorological Service was this morning warning of heavy rain and thunderstorms, with the storm moving southwest across the group.
The US military's Joint Typhoon Warning Center has posted the storm as a potential cyclone and said the chances were high it would become a cyclone.
It projected it would head south into the Coral Sea and Tasman Sea toward New Zealand.