Tsunami toll mounts

04 April 2007 | 05:56 Code : 13162 Geoscience events
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THE earthquake and tsunami that pounded the Solomon Islands left at least 24 people....
THE earthquake and tsunami that pounded the Solomon Islands left at least 24 people dead and more than 5400 survivors homeless, disaster chiefs said today.But while the death toll will rise and the full extent of the disaster has yet to be established, an official said that early indications were that the number of dead may not increase dramatically. "The death toll from unconfirmed reports has now risen to 24, with 916 houses destroyed and 5409 people affected by the disaster," the Office of Emergency Management's deputy director, Janet Batee, said."The missing are of great concern to us but we have no verified figures for them yet," she said. Police said that 13 villages had been destroyed and many people were unaccounted for.Ms Batee said most of the dead and displaced were around the seaside diving town of Gizo, which witnesses said was pounded by waves up to 5m high.She said difficult communications and tough terrain meant that disaster assessment teams had not yet reached outlying areas such as the island of Choiseul to establish the extent of the devastation.Entire villages were destroyed after an 8.0-magnitude quake sparked the tsunami that hit towns in the country's Western Province.The quake hit Gizo island, northwest of the Solomons capital Honiara, hardest. It damaged shops, schools and a hospital on the low-lying waterfront, while the following tsunami wave sucked dozens of houses into the sea."There are a lot of people who are without shelter. We understand that a lot of villages in other areas of the Western Province and Choiseul Province were totally wiped out," Solomons National Disaster Council chairman Fred Fakari told ABC radio today. Fakari said disaster teams and international peacekeepers in the country had not yet reached the area and had hoped to reach Gizo by helicopter to begin a full damage assessment.Western Province Premier Alex Lokopio said an estimated 4000 people were sheltering in the hills amid warnings that quake aftershocks could generate more tsunami waves in coming days. Islanders were in desperate need of water, food and tents, he said."For the next three days or four days, if there is not anything coming from Honiara or any other parts of the world, there are people here in Gizo who will be sitting down underneath the trees day and night," Lokopio said.Fakari said the death toll was still unknown, but initial estimates pointed to at least 20 dead and more still missing."We expect the number to rise, the toll to rise, as we reconcile all our reports and get down on the ground," he said."We could not get reports from the more remote parts of the islands. People were too frightened to go back to their villages."This morning, smaller earthquake struck near the islands, measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale. The US Geological Survey said it struck about 305km west-north-west of Honiara, about 9.20am Queensland time. There were no reports of damage. Monday's quake struck 350km northwest of Honiara and sparked a tsunami alert around the Pacific.Beaches along Australia's east coast were closed and ferry services stopped on Sydney Harbour amid fears of a repeat of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Roads in Australia's north were gridlocked as residents fled the coast.The alert was lifted about nine hours later, with damage confined to the immediate area around the quake.Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's government declared a state of emergency."My heart goes out to all of you in this very trying time," Sogavare said in a national radio address.Government and Red Cross disaster teams are taking tents and supplies to the affected area. Australia, which said the wave also hit the western Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville, has offered A$2 million ($1.6 million) in aid.The United Nations said it had a full Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team on standby for deployment to the Solomons.Kevin McCue, the Director of the Australian Seismological Centre, said there was a strong chance more quakes would follow in the coming days on an undersea trench west of the Solomons."This region typically has double earthquakes, six sets of them since 1907," McCue said, adding residents and rescue teams should be on alert for more quakes of up to magnitude 7.5.The Solomon Islands lie on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire" where volcanic activity and earthquakes are fairly common.The islands are popular with international travellers for scuba diving. Most homes in the mountainous islands are constructed of timber and bamboo, with villagers relying on fishing and logging for employment.

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