Death toll rises in 'worst' Solomons flooding


Government officials have said the death toll from severe flooding in the Solomon Islands has risen.

* Emergency shelters being established in capital Honiara

* UNICEF reports Government desperately short of money to help clean up operations

* Australian government offers initial pledge of $50,000 for relief efforts

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What is described as the worst flooding in memory in the Solomon Islands has hit the capital Honiara, claimed several lives and forcing the evacuation of thousands.

Government officials have confirmed at least 8 deaths, but there are fears the death toll could rise.

Sixteen people have been confirmed as "seriously injured".

Minister Bradley Tovosia has declared Honiara and parts of Guadalcanal disaster areas.

Chinatown has been flooded and one of the only two bridges connecting Honiara to the international airport, and the entry point for relief supplies, has been washed away.

Entire communities were swept away as the city's main river, the Matanikau, burst its banks late Thursday, bringing down bridges and inundating the downtown area in a disaster observers said was one of the worst ever faced by the Pacific nation.

Cameron Vudi, Solomon Islands Red Cross Disaster Risk Manager, says the flash flooding caught many by surprise.

"People who lost their homes or had to be evacuated had very little time to prepare for this disaster. I think it has taken everybody by surprise," he said.

Listen: Full interview with Cameron Vudi 

"The situation is quite dire," Save the Children's Solomons development program director Rudaba Khondker said on Friday.

"This level of rain has never been experienced before in Guadalcanal (the island where Honiara is located)."  

Khondker said 16 evacuation centres had been set up in local schools to provide shelter for more than 10,000 homeless people, a huge proportion of the population in a city of only 70,000.

"It's a logistical challenge," she said, adding that roads had been cut and communications were patchy.

Heavy rain from a tropical low is set to continue over the coming days and there are fears it could develop into a cyclone.

The Australian government says it is working with the Solomon Islands to assess the situation.

Director of National Disaster Management Loti Yates says police have brought looting under control but there are fears, if aid does not arrive soon, there will be further outbreaks.
Loti Yates told Stefan Armbruster he has never experienced this type of flooding before.

"Managing the camps is the biggest need now," he said. "There's a saying that hungry people are angry people and it has started to show. Earlier, when the situation happened there was attempted looting."

"Our fear is that we may not be able to support these people properly and people might do things the way they want to do things".

Listen: Full interview with Loti Yates

Australian government officials advise people concerned about Australian family and friends in Honiara to make direct phone contact.

If attempts to directly contact family in Honiara are unsuccessful, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises people call the 24 hour Consular Emergency Centre on 1 300 555 135, or +61 2 6261 3305 (if calling from overseas).

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