HONARIA, Solomon Islands (BBC, Jan. 6) - Aid workers are hoping to make the first contact with victims on the second of two remote islands in the Solomons Islands group struck by a powerful storm nine days ago.

A patrol boat left the island of Tikopia for the island of Anuta, where damage and casualties will be assessed on Tuesday.

There has been no word from Anuta since Cyclone Zoe blasted the region on 28 December.

A ship chartered by the Australian and New Zealand Governments has been handing out the first major supplies to Tikopia, which was under the eye of the storm.

All the islanders on Tikopia appear to have survived. But there continues to be criticism of delays to the relief effort to the remote islands.

The Isabella ferry - chartered by Canberra and Wellington - arrived at Tikopia on Monday with food, water and shelter.

A crew on a smaller boat sent by the Solomon Islands Government which reached the island earlier reported widespread damage but only minor injuries.

There had been fears of mass casualties after a New Zealand cameraman flew over Tikopia on 1 January and said it had been devastated.

The Auki boat has set sail for Anuta to report on the fate of its 400 or so residents.

Radio contact with the island was broken as it was lashed by the storm which packed winds of up to 350 kilometers per hour (220 mph). Zoe - classified as the strongest Category Five cyclone - was one of the most powerful on record in the Pacific.

A preliminary aerial survey has given hope that Anuta's people will be safe.

Alan March, assistant director general of Australia's government aid agency AusAid, said: "While we retain concerns for Anuta, we are hopeful that as it was less damaged than Tikopia, here again there is likely to be no loss of life."

He said a third boat would make the 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) voyage from the Solomon capital Honiara once aid workers had evaluated exactly what supplies were needed.

Widespread damage to homes has been reported on Tikopia, but most of the 1,300 islanders escaped injury by sheltering in caves.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, Jenny Wells, said the immediate relief effort was going smoothly but the stricken islands faced a long and difficult reconstruction task.

"The two large villages on Tikopia don't have a sustainable water source, the health clinic has had to be re-stocked," she said.

"The short-term things are easy to remedy but the long-term things are so much harder."

She said it could take two years for the islanders to become self-sufficient again after their food crops were flattened.

Criticism has been building of the time taken to launch the relief effort.

The Solomon Islands delayed sending a patrol boat to the islands because the government had no money to buy fuel or pay a crew.

After the Australian Government donated funds, officials in Honiara then decided to wait to stock a larger vessel.

Solomon Islands opposition MP John Garo said: "The government could have been responsible for unnecessary loss of life on Tikopia."

He attacked the repeated delays, saying: "This is a sheer display of the government's total lack of respect for human dignity."

But the director of the National Disaster Management Office, Loti Yates, said nothing could have been done more quickly given weather conditions and the near-bankrupt state of the islands.

"Given the government's current financial problems as well as the weather in the area, we could not have responded earlier than we have done," he told the Reuters news agency.

January 7, 2003


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