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Nine dead in Solomon Islands, fears for missing

Published: 5:54AM Thursday February 07, 2013 Source: ONE News

Nine people have been confirmed dead after a metre-high tsunami hit the Solomon Islands yesterday.

The wave struck the island chain following an 8.0 magnitude quake, 340 km east of Kirakira yesterday afternoon.

A series of metre high waves crashed through coastal villages leaving many with nowhere to hide.

"Some of those islands wouldn't be a metre out of the sea and a wave of even 0. 9 of a metre would have a significant impact," said Red Cross Disaster Manager Tim McInerny.

"People have nowhere to go, they will have to climb coconut trees to try and get away."

The death toll is expected to rise as many others are missing, and emergency supplies cannot yet be flown into the devastated areas.

In Nela Village a muddy platform (pictured above) is all that is left of a hut that was home to an elderly couple who are among the dead.

World Vision's Dr Andrew Cutford told ONE News via Skype that one of the immediate activities today was getting together as many shelter kits as possible until more permanent buildings can be constructed.

"We are also expecting to provide water containers, people won't be able to access their usual safe drinking water, so we'll need to be able to provide them with containers to be able to travel further or access water systems set up by response agencies such as Red Cross."

The Temotu Province is a remote region, and with the airport at the biggest town - Lata -  covered in debris,  a boat is the quickest way to get from Honiara to the disaster zone, but that will take up to a day and a half. And once in Lata there is the challenge of reaching the outer islands.

ONE News Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver, who is at the airport at the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara, said officials are desperate to fly out to assess the damage.

Dreaver said aid agencies are currently loading up supplies at Honiara wharf so they can go up to Lata.

She said Lata Airport is expected to reopen tomorrow and the Solomon Islands prime minister will be one of the first on the ground.

She said the Red Cross has also set-up a tracking system, which is going to be incredibly important, as there are 4500 people displaced, and this will be one way to track where some of them are.

World Vision said 700 homes have been damaged and the number of people needing help was "growing by the moment".

"The people that are on the ground in Lata right now have been able to make contact with some of the communities around Lata and we know that significant numbers of people have sought higher ground," Cutford said.

"However, we haven't been able to make contact with communities farther away from Lata and a number of hours boat ride away from Lata so until that assessments been done, we won't know the total impact."

The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) says four schools have been destroyed by the tsunami.

PEZA said water supply to Lata is contaminated and has been cut-off.

It said 13 villages around Lata have been severely affected, and roads to the villages around Lata are covered in debris.

People need to get out

Solomon Islands Police Commissioner John Lansley told TV ONE's Breakfast Santa Cruz island is the most badly damaged.

"Many of the homes, sadly, have been swept away and a couple of villages have been completely swept away and that's why we need to get people out there as soon as we can."

World Vision said it had made an assessment of two coastal communities in the north-east of Lata, and found homes had shifted 5 to 10 metres and 90% had been damaged. Schools and churches had also been badly damaged or destroyed.

Cutford from the charity said recovery work will continue today.

"There has been this issue reported of a lot of debris in the water supplies and water containers which has been worked on overnight and today.

"Also there was quite a few animals, pigs and fish and chickens that were killed so there's a job to clean that up to keep things sanitary today," he said.

Community members had spent the night in the local church and school, and work to build shelters will also go ahead today.

Dozens of aftershocks, including a magnitude 7 quake, followed the main earthquake.

Dreaver said it had put locals' nerves on edge, as aid workers struggled to reach the worst hit areas.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says New Zealand "has made $200,000 available for humanitarian supplies and support to the Solomon Islands Government assessment teams".