2 NEW ZEALANDERS DROWN, OTHERS MISSING IN SOLOMONS

SYDNEY, Australia (Australian Broadcasting Corp. April 3) – A New Zealander visiting the Solomon Islands has drowned in the tsunami as he tried to save his elderly parents.

Toma Espinosa had reunited with his parents for the first time in 18 years in the town of Gizo when the tsunami struck yesterday morning.

He and his younger brother were attempting to save their parents when Mr Espinosa and his mother were swept away by a second wave.

His daughter, Juliet Toma, says it is a tragic end to the family's reunion.

"We were saying to Dad, 'Come on Dad, we'll pay for your fare. We want you to go now and see your parents before anything happens to them'," she said. "So that was the whole reason he went back, to see his parents."

Mr Espinosa's father is recovering in hospital but his mother's body has not been recovered.

A spokeswoman for New Zealand's foreign affairs ministry says Mr Espinosa's death has not yet been confirmed by Solomon Islands police.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sending diplomats to the Solomon Islands to check on five New Zealanders who are still missing after yesterday's tsunami.

The Ministry says there are particular concerns for a marine biologist who was onboard a research vessel at sea at the time the tsunami struck.

The man was working on a New Zealand volunteer aid project out of the provincial capital Gizo, which was badly hit by the tsunami.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters says his country stands ready to offer whatever assistance it can to the people of the Solomon Islands.

At least 21 people are confirmed dead but there are fears the toll will rise.

The Solomon Islands Red Cross estimates approximately 2,000 people, or 10 per cent of Gizo's population, are now homeless. Some 500 houses may have been damaged or destroyed.

Locals on the ground are already recounting scenes of devastation.

Gizo dive operator Danny Kennedy's home overlooks the capital and the devastation is clear to see.

"There's about 60 to 70 buildings that are completely destroyed and beyond repair," he said.

Note: the full interview with Danny Kennedy can be heard on Sydney's 702 ABC Radio after 5pm AEST and will be streamed online.

Meanwhile, as the relief effort starts in earnest, surveys by the emergency response team have shown flood devastation, landslides, homes and businesses destroyed and reports of missing people from islands across the region.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare says the area has been declared a state of disaster and he has praised the reliefs of all involved in helping.

"Later on, we'll be looking at the long term implications," he said. "Right now, the most urgent need is food, shelter and medicine."

Mr Sogavare has welcomed help from the Australian and New Zealand governments.

"We will be needing a mobile hospital facility and I think Australia and New Zealand have kindly offered to come forward on that," he said.

"We will set one up in Munda and I was also suggesting that the other mobile hospital be set up in the southern part of Choiseul province."

Aid agency Caritas Australia says relief efforts in the Solomon Islands will focus on providing water and shelter, crucial services which were devastated by yesterday's tsunami.

International programs manager Jamie Isbister says the priority is finding adequate shelter for the homeless.

"The main damage appears at this stage to be infrastructure and houses," he said. "The airports have been affected, the rural health clinics, people's houses and the water tanks and stations so the focus really is going to be ensuring that people have adequate shelter."

He says many people are homeless and facing the threat of disease.

"Also in the immediate term is the loss of water tanks and also the clinics [are] ensuring that we try and prevent significant outbreaks of tropical diseases and water borne diseases," he said.

The relief team has started getting communications back on line but there are still concerns about public safety, with earth tremors continuing overnight and today.

The US Geological Survey has recorded almost 40 aftershocks since the original earthquake, some measuring more than six points on the Richter Scale.

ABC News Online: http://www.abc.net.au/news/ © 2006 ABC. All Rights Reserved

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