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Infrastructure damage hampers relief efforts in flood-hit Solomon Islands, thousands of people in need

Sunday April 6, 2014 - 05:37 EST
Audience submitted image
Aftermath of Solomon Islands flash flooding as locals inspect the damage and house that was carried downstream along lower Koa Hill into China Town. - Audience submitted

Emergency officials in Solomon Islands are working hard to provide food and shelter for thousands of flood victims, with damage to infrastructure hampering response efforts.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has confirmed 17 dead in the disaster, with the toll expected to rise.

Flash flooding has swept away entire residential districts and at least 23 people are missing.

OCHA has estimated that 12,000 people have been affected by the flooding in the capital, Honiara, and 37,000 affected in Guadalcanal Province.

Several days of heavy rain caused the Mataniko River to burst its banks, washing people and buildings out to sea.

Solomon Islands was also hit by a magnitude 6.0 earthquake late on Friday night.

The National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) says there are no immediate reports of damage from the quake within Honiara, however it says communications with other parts of the country are poor and the situation is unclear.

Graham Kenna from Save the Children in Solomon Islands says the weather is clearing, but the risk of a cyclone developing remains.

"We have been able to get further afield from Honiara city to do some assessments from the outlying areas," he said.

"The situation in the city is that currently there are 12,000 people that have been displaced."

Local resident Paul Lega told the Solomon Star newspaper the river rose too fast for some families to escape.

"I witnessed a mother and two children swept away in their home," he said as the newspaper described the devastation as "the worst disaster the nation has seen".

Graham Kenna's colleagues at Save the Children witnessed a child being swept away in the floodwaters, just one of "several tragedies" he says his staff have seen in the disaster.

Sixteen evacuation centres have been set up throughout the city, most of them in local schools while many other people have sought shelter with family.

"It's making it increasingly difficult to register these people and then decide what kind of assistance we need to give them," Mr Kenna said.

"There was a helicopter fly-over of the outer areas of the city and it's estimated that 37,000 people have been directly impacted by the disaster.

"So you could double that figure by people that are under pressure - maybe they have houses damaged.

"The infrastructure has been extremely badly damaged. Sewage has been broken, there's no water in the city, the water pumping unit is not working properly. We've had sparse electricity, sparse internet, so the infrastructure itself is gone.

"The two major bridges in the city are both unusable, one is completely washed away, the other one is damaged and vehicles cannot cross it."

Flights remain suspended at Honiara's Henderson International Airport due to debris on the runway and damage to navigation and lighting systems.

Aid workers feared outbreaks of disease in the city and were waiting for Honiara airport to reopen so emergency relief supplies could be flown in.

The flooding had cut off roads throughout Honiara and of the two main bridges crossing the Mataniko, one was washed away and the other was closed after large cracks appeared in the structure.

The loss of the bridges prevented officials from getting a look at the scale of destruction in outlying areas where landslides and floods were also reported.

The Solomon Islands meteorological bureau says the tropical low over the country which has brought three days of heavy rains is slowly intensifying.

It has warned residents to take precautionary measures as bad weather associated with the tropical low poses threats to lives and properties.

Australia provides emergency relief

The Australian Government is providing an initial $50,000 in humanitarian emergency assistance for the deadly flooding.

The aid will go towards helping the Solomon Islands government and local non-government organisations with logistics and emergency relief items.

Australia is also providing specialist assistance to the NDMO and will help the government to undertake an initial aerial surveillance of the damage.

The government of New Zealand is providing close to $300,000 in emergency relief.

It says the money will be used for relief supplies and shelter for the thousands of people made homeless after heavy rain and flooding.

Meanwhile, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warning of road closures and delays at Honiara's Henderson International Airport.

ABC, wires


© ABC 2014

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