Solomon Islands floods sweep away people

Last updated 19:15 04/04/2014

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At least 16 people have died and thousands have been left homeless following devastating flash floods in the Solomon Islands.

The flash floods are being described as the worst disaster to hit the nation, with homes, power lines and bridges wiped out by the rising water.

Solomon Islands' government officials confirmed 16 bodies had been recovered, but many more remain missing.

Officials reported the heavy rain and the huge waves are hampering rescue efforts.

The New Zealand government has announced it will provide $300,000 initially to help in the immediate rescue efforts.

Local newspaper The Solomon Star reported the floods as the worst disaster the nation has seen.

“The old one-lane Mataniko bridge is gone. On the Guadalcanal plains, hundreds of villagers head for the hills last night as flooding took away homes.”

A witness told Stuff there are now bodies outside the morgue at the National Hospital.

In Wellington the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it is monitoring the situation and that the High Commission in Honiara is working with local authorities.

There had been no requests so far for help. There were 142 New Zealanders registered as being in the Solomon Islands.

"We are advising New Zealanders in the affected areas to head for higher ground and to avoid rivers, streams and low-lying areas and keep family in New Zealand informed of their well-being."

Oxfam Solomon Islands' country director Katie Greenwood said the flash floods are one of the worst disasters to hit the islands.

"Red Cross workers were pulling people out of a river . . . but they saw many many more people floating by that could not be saved," she told Stuff this morning.

Residents in the capital of Honiara are sheltering in schools, she later told Radio Australia.

"This is unprecedented, and I've seen earthquakes and tsunamis and other very bad flooding incidents. But this flash flooding is unlike anything that I've seen previously here in the country.”.

Reports are reaching the capital of extensive destruction across Guadalcanal as well as outer islands.

UNICEF NZ estimated 10,000 people have been affected in Guadalcanal Province, particular those in  Honiara.

The nation is not out of trouble yet, with a possible tropical cyclone forecast for the weekend. 

Donald Burgess, a UNICEF representative in the Solomon Islands, said the risk of disease is high.

“The situation here is very difficult with 5000 people in evacuation centres but many others will not have managed to find shelter and will be sleeping outdoors tonight."  

Thousands of people are without clean water, he said. The aid agency has launched an emergency appeal to help with relief efforts.

Harrowing stories of death and near escapes are emerging, mostly on social media.

Although one of the Pacific's poorest nations, the extended archipelago is a heavy user of the Internet.

In a mix of English and Solomon Pijin, some accounts are starkly simple: "Sis, Teisi lost her home n husband Leonard Pugeva n 2 grandchildren lo flooding at Vara Creek, they were still in the haus when the floods took the haus."

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On Facebook Forum Solomon Islands, people posted messages seeking urgent help.

Forum members Hudson and Helen Wakio told the state-owned Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation how they rescued people at Henderson Field.

"I simply responded to distress calls posted on facebook that the floods are encroaching their vicinity," Hudson said.

Their mission included infants, children, women, men and even some students of Tenaru school who tried to cross into town.

The scene was frightening and sorrowful but without this help some lives would certainly have been lost.

Banks, shops and the building housing the New Zealand High Commission have been damaged.

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.

- Stuff

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