HONIARA (TIP): Strong aftershocks hampered effortsto reach tsunami-hit villages in the Solomon IslandsFriday, as the death toll after an 8.0-magnitude earthquakerose to nine, with many more reported missing.Officials said damage on Ndende island in the easternSolomons was much worse than first thought, with up to20 villages swamped in a tsunami generated byWednesday’s quake and 6,000 people homeless, doublingprevious estimates.”At first we thought it was going to be quite small butnow it looks like it’s going to be very big and communitieswill not be able to handle it themselves,” national disastermanagement office spokesman Sipuru Rove said.
“This is where we might require external assistance.”A spokesman for prime minister Gordon Darcy Lilo’soffice, George Herming, said nine people were confirmeddead and an undetermined number missing, with the tollexpected to rise as reports filter in from outlying areas.He said the area was officially declared a disaster zoneon Friday, as Australia announced it will assist reliefefforts.Australian foreign minister Bob Carr, who will visit theSolomons on Sunday, said the disaster “has been adevastating experience” for people in the low-lyingislands.
In addition to the official toll, he said “many more arereported missing”.Carr announced Aus$300,000 ($309,000) in reliefpayments and said a Royal Australian Air Force Herculeshad been sent to the Solomons to provide logisticalsupport.Rove said the plane would be deployed to make areconnaissance flight over the island, giving officialstheir first comprehensive overview of the damage.Attempts to fly aid to the remote area, more than 600kilometres (370 miles) from the capital Honiara, have beenhamstrung by damage to the airstrip at its main townLata.
While debris stranded on the runway after it wasinundated by surging waters had been cleared, a series ofaftershocks rattling the island, including a 6.6-magnitudejolt Friday, meant pilots were wary about landing there.Herming said a flight carrying Lilo and senior officialsto the island had to turn back to Honiara on Fridaybecause of fears the 6.6 quake had caused fresh damage tothe airstrip.Rove said the aftershocks were frustrating attempts byvillagers to salvage supplies from their devastated homesto equip the makeshift camps where they are sheltering inthe rugged interior.”They will go down (to the villages) but when there’sanother aftershock they run back to the hills becausethey’re scared of another tsunami,” he said.
With the airfield still out of action, two boats set sailfrom Honiara late on Thursday loaded with food, waterand medical supplies and were expected to arrive late onFriday or early on Saturday.World Vision said food and water in the hillside campswas running low and sanitation would soon become anissue.”Destruction has been widespread in and around Lata,”it said.
“Coastal wells have been covered by debris orcontaminated, water tanks and toilets have beendestroyed and coastal areas are littered with dead fish andpoultry.The US Geological Survey said Wednesday’s quakestruck in the middle of the day, beneath the sea about 76kilometres west of Lata.The Solomons are part of the ” Ring of Fire”, a zone oftectonic activity around the Pacific that is subject tofrequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.In 2007 a tsunami following an 8.0-magnitudeearthquake killed at least 52 people in the Solomons andleft thousands homeless.