SEARCH AND RELIEF EFFORTS UNDERWAY IN SOLOMONS

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, April 2) – The deputy police commissioner in the Solomon Islands, New Zealander Peter Marshall, says air and sea searches today will reveal more about the toll taken by yesterday’s quake and tsunami.

The quake measuring 8.1 and the tsunami have left at least 12 people dead, though reports are still awaited from the many remote communities in the Western and nearby Choiseul provinces.

[PIR editor’s note: The earthquake’s epicenter was located in Western Province near the small island of Gizo. Western and Choiseul provinces are located in the northwest region of Solomon Islands.]

Peter Marshall says the main focus for his team today will be to get a true picture of the situation in the area. "Today will be a telling day we are focusing on the searches out and around the provincial areas, bearing in mind it takes about two hours to get from Honiara up to this Western Province, big distances. Yesterday, aircraft’s were involved with emergency medical evacuations. Today we have up to four who will actually be grid searching the whole of the Western Province area and always the optimist but I expect there will be further deaths to report as the day progresses."

Peter Marshall says three Solomon Islands police vessels are due to arrive shortly in the Munda area, near Gizo in the Western Province with relief supplies.

Meanwhile, witnesses have described the horror of what happened yesterday.

One resident of Gizo, the capital of Western Province, which was hardest, hit, says a lot of people remain in the hills where they had sought safety.

He says he was in a boat at sea when the tsunami hit the town and he was able to watch the people run into the hills. "It caused a lot of damage round this place, including a church one of the towers falls off, and even the town cord supply system, powers cut off at the moment, a lot of people are somewhere up in the hills but all the pigs in the sea, some houses have been floating, houses have been floating, boats are floating out."

Danny Kennedy says with the hospital closed, people also need health and medical assistance.

A Red Cross worker in Gizo says they have already run out of relief supplies after yesterday’s earthquake and tsunami.

Sepolo Rovay says many people are frightened another tsunami might hit and have left their homes to move to higher ground.

He says the Red Cross has given out everything in its storage to help those affected and is awaiting new supplies from Honiara and they need a lot of basics.

Sepolo Rovay says reports are coming in of numerous homes damaged by the tsunami, and in one village on Simbo Island all but 3 homes were completely destroyed.

And a spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Office says there is another concern facing some people. "And the people on Simbo Island especially have expressed great fears about a dormant volcano on that island and they are very scared that if an eruption happens that will be more dangerous than a tsunami wave."

And the Solomon Islands disaster council says it’s warning people on the islands that the danger is not over yet.

Julian Makaa from the islands disaster council says the islands are still on alert. "Most of the stations that have reported, say they are feeling some bits of the tremors, so we have issued a warning to sort of let people know that it’s still not safe they should still be on high ground."

Some aid assistance is starting to pour into Solomon Islands.

The Australian Government has made an initial offer of up to 1 million US dollars in emergency and reconstruction assistance to the Solomon Islands Government.

The International Red Cross says it will send 53-thousand US dollars to the Solomon Islands Red Cross.

It says the money will go towards damage assessments and the purchase and delivery of relief supplies.

The Catholic agency for justice, peace and development—or CARITAS—has pledged ten thousand dollars towards immediate relief assistance for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.

It says that through its contacts it has learned of significant destruction, with two villages near Gizo, Nasabaaruka and the fishing village, where around 200 people had been living, have been completely destroyed.

The New Zealand government is to meet today to discuss what assistance it can offer.

Meanwhile, Fiji police have expressed grave disappointment with the public response to yesterday’s Pacific wide tsunami warning.

Fiji police sent officers to coastal areas to warn people to move to higher ground.

The Fiji Times reports that while some people heeded the warnings, many ignored them and continued to enjoy the sun and the surf.

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