Thousands Remain In Honiara Evacuation Centers

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Disease outbreaks a concern due to poor sanitation

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, April 8, 2014, 2014) –Authorities in Solomon Islands say 23 people have died and 9,000 are homeless following disastrous flash floods, landslides and strong winds.

The Solomon's National Disaster Council says the victims who lost their homes occupying 24 evacuation centres around Honiara.

The National Emergency Operations Centre says the numbers are continuing to increase across all centres.

The director of the National Disaster Management Office, Loti Yates, has raised concerns over sanitation at the evacuation centres, which are lacking proper water supply.

"There is a very real risk of an outbreak of disease - including dysentry, malaria, dengue fever and other diseases related to poor sanitation," Mr Yates said.

The Solomon Islands government has allocated SB$5 million in [US$678,500] emergency funds for the relief effort.

Australia and New Zealand have sent aircraft, equipment and specialist teams, as well as money, to assist in the clean up.

Cherise Chadwick from Solomon Islands Red Cross has told Asia Pacific thousands are still in evacuation centres in the capital, Honiara.

"Many of those people are not sure what they're returning back to," she said.

"They left their houses as the flooding was in process, and they haven't gone back yet, so it's very hard to know if they're going back to a damaged house or a completely destroyed house at this stage."

"I've visited Solomon Islands perhaps 30 times since 1980, but never have I seen the capital Honiara in such a mess; Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney

Honiara has been effectively split in two, after the Old China Town Bridge completely collapsed on Thursday, and the Mataniko Bridge was reduced to one lane.

Major infrastructure including the sewerage system and water supplies have been badly damaged or destroyed.

Ms Chadwick says that's a major worry for those in evacuation centres.

"We're quite concerned about the possibility of outbreaks of disease due to the problem of water access - as many of these evacuation centres are schools, there's limited water in those schools.

"The main water network has also been heavily disrupted, so we're trying to get the main water network up and running, but that's obviously taking some time."

Solomon Islands National Disaster Council says 40,000 people in Guadalcanal are also estimated to have been affected by the disaster.

Assessment teams are being sent to the province, but Ms Chadwick says it remains difficult to access the disaster hit regions.

"Guadalcanal province itself has been very difficult to access to really get a sense of what actually is the situation out there.

"We do know that there's been extensive flooding, but obviously access has hampered the efforts to go in and see what the situation is there, but we are expecting a similar situation."

World Vision Solomon Islands national director Andrew Catford said a greater level of international support will be required.

"One of the things that can hamper relief efforts is the funding doesn't come in as quickly as what you're having to implement, and certainly that's been the case so far," he said.

"Given the scale of this, 12,000 people in Honiara, 40,000 approximately in rural areas, it's going to be not a terribly cheap exercise to get those people back on their feet."

The Australian Government has increased its travel warning for Honiara, advising visitors to exercise a high degree of caution and follow the instructions of local authorities.

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