Fears grow in wake of floods

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:59 07/04/2014
Solomon Islands
Hugh Walton
BEACHED: The view from Nelson man Hugh Walton’s Solomon Islands apartment.

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Three marine engineering students in Nelson have managed to contact their immediate families in the flood-devastated Solomon Islands and everyone is OK, their tutor says.

So is former NMIT School of Fisheries head Hugh Walton, who is working for the Forum Fisheries Agency in badly-hit Honiara and yesterday emailed friends a picture of the scene from his apartment window and a brief note.

A river in Honiara burst its banks and swept away homes and people, with more than 20 dead and many not yet accounted for.

"Not a great addition to the veranda view . . . but we are well off compared to the 10,000-12,000 people who don't have a house any more," Walton wrote.

His friend Alec Woods, who owns Pacific Networks Ltd, a company working with foreign fishing and seafaring students, said the three Solomon Islanders had so far only been able to reach home by text message, and were still anxious about their extended families.

Woods, who spent three weeks in the Solomons with Walton last year, said he expected the road to the office in Honiara would have been "totalled" in the flooding, since it was close to a riverbed. Walton had been working in the Solomons for about two years, he said.

Prime Minister John Key said New Zealand's aid contribution was likely to increase considerably, once the full damage had been assessed.

New Zealand has given $300,000 in immediate aid, and an air force Orion was to depart for Honiara this morning, with critical aid supplies.

The major damage in Honiara came after the Mataniko River, which runs through Chinatown and the business district, burst its banks.

Entire houses have been swept out to sea and yesterday Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said the official death toll was at 21. That was expected to rise, with more people missing.

The misery of the people was compounded early today by a magnitude 6 earthquake, 63 kilometres deep, centred 240 kilometres southeast of Honiara.

Significant numbers of displaced persons were in evacuation centres across Honiara.

This morning, Key said New Zealand's aid contribution would likely rise as authorities got to grips with the damage and assessed priorities. "If you look at Tonga for instance, we started with a relatively small number and moved up consistently over time."

Key said the Solomon Islands government would likely find the disaster response difficult to manage.

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"It's no slight on them, but I think they'll struggle. Because I think any government struggles to deal with a natural disaster with the order of magnitude that they're facing.

"That's one of the challenges - we don't fully know yet where we can be of most assistance."

- Nelson

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