Kiwis join Solomons flood clean up

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 13:23 05/04/2014
World Vision USA

After more than 36 hours of heavy rains, flash floods in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara are responsible for at least ten deaths and thousands displaced.

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New Zealand police officers are helping in the grim task of finding bodies today in the wake of a devastating flood in the Solomon Islands.

An official death toll from the savage storm has yet to be released with aid agencies putting the number at 16 but New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs putting it at 12.

Up to 30 people are missing and it is feared many are children.

Bodies are being found in massive piles of debris on the Honiara foreshore.

A foreign affairs spokeswoman said New Zealand police attached to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands have been attached to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to help the now over 10,000 homeless people.

The misery of the people was compounded early this morning by a magnitude six earthquake, 63 kilometres deep, centred 240 kilometres south east of Honiara.

It was strongly felt across the country and while there are no early reports of damage, large parts of the Solomons are landslip prone.

The major damage in Honiara came after the Mataniko River, which runs through Chinatown and the business district, burst its banks. The rugged hills above the town, where the major World War Two battles took place, has been heavily logged recently.

Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo said the government had declared a "state of disaster" so they can take emergency actions to deal with the ongoing crisis.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates 10,000 people have lost homes and are directly affected.

It says bridges have been washed out and the international airport at Henderson Field, east of Honiara is closed. The terminal is being used by over a thousand people as a shelter and the runway is covered in debris.

OCHA says many roads are blocked and the main wharf has been damaged by break-away vessels, many of which have also washed ashore along with piles of debris.

Due to the Solomon's vulnerability to natural disasters, aid organisations have stockpiles of relief supplies in the country.

World Vision says it is ready to move.

“The Guadalcanal plains area is badly flooded," says Lawrence Hillary, World Vision's Emergency Response Manager in Solomon Islands.

"Food, blankets, hygiene kits, clothing and temporary shelter are going to be the greatest needs".

Save the Children's Graham Kenna says the scale of the damage is still unclear outside Honiara as both bridges out of the city are cut off.

“In the city thousands of homes have been completely washed away, with people fleeing for their lives," he said.

"We are extremely concerned about the welfare of children across the Solomon Islands as they are particularly vulnerable during emergencies. My staff has witnessed a child being swept away by the floodwaters. They are devastated by what they have witnessed."

The director of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Loti Yates, says people had lost their lives because they had not heeded warnings to get away from river banks.

"There is so much heavy rain around the area that creates massive flash foods," he said.

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New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully yesterday pledged an initial contribution of $300,000 to the Solomons.

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.

- Fairfax Media

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