Boy survives storm, but loses family

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 14:12 10/04/2014
land
Australian Defence Force / Reuters

DEVASTATED: Locals look at a bridge that was destroyed as a result of severe flooding near the capital of Honiara in the Solomon Islands.

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A 10-year-old boy who survived the devastating Solomon Islands floods has given a harrowing account of watching his mother, two brothers and a baby sister die even as he struggled to survive.

As Patrick Beni tried to save his seven-year-old brother, he lost his grip on him.

"When I tried to grab hold of him again, the waves came and smashed him into the piles of debris," Patrick told the Solomons Star. "I never saw him again."

Patrick's story has emerged as the official death toll from last week's floods that destroyed the centre of Honiara was reduced to 21 from 23.

Many people are still missing, most of them children. But there have also been dramatic survival stories, such as that of eight-year-old Isiah Andrew, who survived being swept down the raging Mataniko River that divides Honiara.

Young Isiah lost three younger nieces, a nephew and his grandfather.

Patrick Beni told the Solomons Star that he, his mother and three siblings - 7-year-old Francis, 4-year-old Junior and 18-month-old sister Salome - where at home when the Mataniko River rose.

"I rushed in to wake mum who was sleeping in her room and told her we must escape because the floods are coming," Patrick said.

His mother got up but it was too late to escape.

Junior was crushed to death by a falling sago palm tree.

The mother grabbed Salome and held on to one of the sago palm trees as it was washed downstream.

He and his brother Francis held on to another palm.

"When we came to the old (Mataniko) bridge, I told my brother Francis to keep close to me as we squeezed our way through the debris that was blocking the bridge then, and came out on the other side."

He lost sight of his mother and Salome.

They swept on toward the new bridge and he then again saw his mother and baby sister in front of him.

"But I think my sister had already died when the water took them under the bridge because there was only little space for her to breathe between the water level and the bridge."

They came out the other side of the bridge and he called to his mother, who still held Salome.

"Mum didn't reply as she was herself gasping for air at that point in time," Patrick told the Star.

"After that, I didn't see mum again. I believe they were drowned."

Patrick and Francis swept out of the river and into the sea, coming up against a wrecked barge.

"The men on the barge threw a rope to us. But when I tried to grab hold of the rope, I lost my hold on Francis.

"When I tried to grab hold of him again, the waves came and smashed him into the piles of debris. I never saw him again."

Patrick was rescued soon after.

The bodies of his mother, Junior and Salome have been found and buried.

Francis has not been found.

"To lose a mother, two brothers, and a sister, is too heavy a burden to carry," Patrick said.

"I have been thinking about my mother, brothers and sister all the time. I miss them."

UNICEF New Zealand is collecting donations for the Solomon Islands.

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- Fairfax Media

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