Solomon Islanders safe

Residents on two South Pacific Islands hit by a cyclone more than a week ago survived.

BY PJ HELLER | BALTIMORE | January 7, 2003

Residents on two remote South Pacific Islands hit by a Category 5 cyclone more than one week ago have survived with no deaths or serious injuries reported, officials reported Tuesday.

As relief efforts continued on the islands, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake occurred 75 miles southeast of Honiara, the capital with a population of 50,000. There were no immediate reports of damages or injuries.

Fears had been growing about the fate of some 3,700 people said to be living on the islands of Tikopia and Anuta, more than 600 miles from Honiara, after Cyclone Zoe slammed the islands with 33-foot waves driven by winds of more than 200 mph. All radio communication with the islands was cut off.

Neither island has an airstrip and the only way to reach them is by boat, about a three day voyage from Honiara.

A Solomon Islands police patrol boat, the Auki, arrived Sunday in Tikopia and unloaded a relief team, medical supplies and food. A second boat, the Isabella, arrived Monday with teams from other relief agencies.

The Auki left Tikopia on Monday and arrived Tuesday morning at Anuta.

"The assessment team found that damage to structures and crops on Anuta was significantly less than on Tikopia," reported Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. "There are sufficient food supplies for two or three months."

Downer said the water supply on Anuta was not affected but that one of two water supplies on Tikopia suffered saltwater intrusion.

Relief teams on Anuta brought in medical supplies and set up a clinic in the island's school, which was not damaged, Downer reported. He said local police installed VHF radio equipment to restore communications that had been out of commission since November.

The Auki was scheduled to leave Anuta on Tuesday night and check on other islands in the area.

A third relief boat, the Hamakyo Maru funded by Australia, was scheduled to sail from Honiara later Tuesday with additional relief supplies and additional fuel for the Auki and Isabella.

Officials said the islanders survived the storm by taking shelter in caves on high ground. The islanders suffered only minor cuts and bruises in the storm, which flattened their houses and crops and snapped trees.

Alan March, assistant director general of Australia's government aid agency, AusAID, said he expected Australian relief efforts would continue for three months. New Zealand also has contributed to the relief effort.

Efforts to get relief supplies to the remote islands were hampered by the cash-strapped Solomon Islands government, which was unable to pay for food, fuel and other supplies.

Despite criticism of the slow response to the Dec. 28 cyclone, officials said they were doing everything possible.

"Given the government's current financial problems as well as the weather in the area, we could not have responded earlier than we have done," said Loti Yates, director of the National Disaster Management Office.

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