Kiwi health workers to help in Solomons

Last updated 05:00 15/04/2014

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New Zealand will send health workers and a portable bridge to the Solomon Islands, which is reeling from multiple natural disasters.

The Solomons were shaken by a magnitude 7.6 quake early on Sunday and another one measuring 7.4 overnight on Sunday, less than two weeks after floods devastated the region.

Humanitarian assistance has been pouring into the region.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the Government would send health personnel and a Bailey bridge to help.

"The main hospital in [the capital] Honiara is stretched after the recent flooding and there is a very serious risk of waterborne disease spreading around the capital," McCully said. "We will be deploying two New Zealand health teams, on separate rotations, to assist the local authorities. The teams will consist of up to 10 people, including emergency management doctors and nurses, logistics experts and support staff.

The NZ Transport Authority's Bailey bridge - a kitset bridge - will also be sent over to help maintain the critical link between the airport and Honiara's city centre.

The temporary structure will remain there until the Mataniko Bridge, which was damaged in the initial flooding, is replaced.

The first health team will leave for Honiara tomorrow and the Bailey bridge components are expected to be shipped in the coming weeks.

McCully said this would take New Zealand's total contribution to relief and recovery efforts to about $2.6 million since the floods hit.

The announcement came after Sunday night's earthquake became the latest addition to a spate of natural disasters in the Solomon Islands this month.

World Vision's humanitarian and emergency manager in the Solomons, Dwain Hindriksen, said Solomon Islanders were resilient people who just got on with it.

"They've experienced floods, typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, and they know they've just got to keep going," Hindriksen said.

Sunday's quake, located 324 kilometres southeast of Honiara, had generated waves that struck parts of the Solomon Islands, and people fled the coast, including abandoning the local hospital.

That was just a week after floods devastated the region.

Hindriksen had been in Honiara since April 7 to help with the recovery. Despite being hundreds of kilometres from the quakes' epicentres, he described both as "decent shakes". "For the first quake we were sitting down having a little meeting and you could see the tables moving and the building shaking."

He was woken by Sunday night's quake, which hit just before midnight local time.

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"It wasn't enough to knock lamp stands over, but enough to get the bed and wardrobe swaying," he said.

"From what I've heard there haven't been any reports of damage, which is great considering the wider context post-floods."

Solomon Islanders knew the drill for these types of disasters, he said. "People have had experience of this before, they know what they're doing.

"A big thanks to Kiwis for wanting to know what's going on over here, and for the financial support as well. It makes a big difference."

Red Cross New Zealand volunteer Ken Lewis, also based in Honiara, said the magnitude 7.6 earthquake was "pronounced and long".

"There was no missing it - it woke me up."

On April 3, the city's main river burst its banks after days of heavy rain. Flash floods left more than 20 people dead, dozens missing, and tens of thousands homeless.

Like New Zealand, the Solomons are part of the "ring of fire" - an area of tectonic activity around the Pacific that is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Fairfax NZ

- Southland

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