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Disease Hits As Aid Trickles Into Solomons Disaster Area

A house stands with its rear posts damaged by tsunami in Gizo, 04 April 2007. Aid agencies urgently appealed 04 April for water, shelter and medicine for isolated towns and villages where thousands of victims of the Solomon Islands tsunami have been left homeless. Photo courtesy AFP.

Strong quakes hit Pacific, no damage reported
Sydney (AFP) April 4 - Two strong earthquakes rocked the Loyalty Islands region of the South Pacific on Wednesday, two days after an 8.0-magnitude quake spawned a tsunami in the Solomon Islands, experts said. No damage was immediately reported from the first 6.3-magnitude quake, which hit at 7:26 am (2026 GMT Tuesday), 136 kilometres (84 miles) southwest of Isangel in Vanuatu and 137 kilometres northeast of New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands. No tsunami warning was issued for the earthquake. A second quake, also magnitude 6.3, hit at 10:00 pm (1100 GMT) close by at a depth of 10 kilometres. No damage was immediately reported and no tsunami warning issued. The Pacific region has been on tenterhooks since a huge undersea quake on Monday triggered a devastating tsunami. At least 30 people have been reported killed near its epicentre in the Solomons. That quake has been followed by scores of aftershocks measuring up to 6.7 in magnitude that have kept terrified Solomon Islanders from returning to their homes.
by Neil Sands
Gizo (AFP) Solomon Islands, April 4, 2007
Disease began breaking out among victims of the Solomon Islands tsunami on Wednesday, as aid workers urgently appealed for more water, tents and medicine for thousands of homeless people.

Rescuers fear major outbreaks of infection in the tropical heat as assistance trickles painfully slowly into refugee camps near the remote towns and villages hit by an 8.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it sparked nearly three days ago.

Nervous and exhausted survivors were repeatedly jolted by aftershocks packing magnitudes of up to 6.2 as they camped outdoors on high ground. "Conditions are very, very difficult," Dr. George Jalini told AFP as he appealed for aid for his makeshift hospital in Gizo, saying it was almost impossible to prevent infections in the open-air environment.

Aircraft and ships loaded with food, water, tents, tarpaulins, blankets, medicines and other emergency supplies began arriving in the western islands where nearly 5,500 are homeless and at least 30 people reported killed.

But the victims' needs are becoming increasingly urgent as water runs low, aid workers warned.

"The principle needs right now are for water," Nancy Jolo of the Solomons Red Cross said in the shattered provincial capital of Gizo, where around 2,000 people are sleeping out on hillsides. "What we are experiencing in some of the campsites is that children are starting to experience diarrhoea," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

World Vision Australia chief executive Tim Costello said the water shortage was critical as gravity-fed wells were contaminated with salt water while food supplies had been lost.

"People's food has all been destroyed," he said. "The villages are all on the seaside and they have been completely destroyed and crap and muck all washed over them so there's no food." Gizo, a popular diving and fishing spot with a population of about 20,000, was one of the worst affected areas, lying just 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the epicentre of Monday's quake, which triggered an immediate tsunami.

Hendrik, who goes by one name, said the 600 people of his tiny fishing village near Gizo were staying inland because of fears of another tsunami.

"We need shovels, we need tents to make this place safe, or people will get very sick in the next few days," he said.

Solomon Islands government communications director Alfred Maesulia said aid was starting to flow into some of the stricken areas that lie some 2,600 kilometres (1,600 miles) east of Australia.

He said a New Zealand Air Force cargo plane had delivered several hundred bags of rice and other supplies such as tents and water containers to Munda, a town near Gizo.

Another C-130 cargo plane from Australia was due to arrive Thursday with more supplies and two more ships carrying aid left the capital Honiara during the day.

The French government said it was flying a planeload of emergency supplies and water treatment equipment Wednesday from its nearby territory of New Caledonia. Other countries, including the United States and Fiji have also offered help.

Six doctors and 13 nurses travelled to clinics being set up in the affected areas, which include some of the most isolated islands of the impoverished South Pacific country.

Deputy police commissioner Peter Marshall said three large police vessels and aircraft were distributing aid to priority areas identified in an aerial survey of the devastation Tuesday.

He said the flyover of the affected areas in Western province and adjoining Choiseul province had not revealed any evidence of large-scale fatalities.

"There were very obvious areas of destruction to villages and landslips around the various locations," he told AFP, adding many villages had been deserted.

But he said the death toll of about 30 was still expected to rise.

Police were checking reports from villagers that up to 12 bodies were seen floating in the sea near Simbo island, southeast of Gizo.

Among those killed on Simbo were a bishop and three others, who died when the tsunami slammed into their church during an ordination ceremony.

Source: Agence France-Presse

related report

Solomons Toll Highlights Need To Beef Up Emergency Response Paris (AFP) April 04 - The loss of life from the quake and tsunami that hit the Solomon Islands this week has cast light on the need to improve emergency response systems in poor, vulnerable countries, the UN said on Wednesday.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said that even though the tsunami warning to the Solomons had been timely, there was very little time to hand it on to Gizo, the worst-hit town, which was only 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the epicentre of the quake that unleashed the giant waves.

"Vulnerable coastal communities close to a quake's epicentre need to rely on their own preparedness," said Patricio Bernal, the executive secretary of a commission that is overseeing global tsunami response.

"Fortunately, in this case, the memory of the [December 26, 2004] Indian Ocean tsunami was still fresh and many inhabitants quickly headed for higher ground," he said in press release.

"Nonetheless, and despite the long experience with tsunamis in the Pacific, communities there could still be better prepared. Everybody, from the youngest to the oldest inhabitant, needs to know how to recognize the danger signs and how to react.

"This means public information and education campaigns and clear procedures for evacuations, access to medical facilities, and emergency accommodation. On the prevention side, it also means improved urban planning and the enforcement of building codes." At least 30 people were reported killed and 5,400 made homeless after the 8.0-magnitude quake and tsunami hit the remote South Pacific islands on Monday.

UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) is overseeing a global warning system for tsunamis, covering the Indian Ocean, Northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean, Caribbean and Pacific.

Source: Agence France-Presse

related report

TSF Deploys From Its Asia-Pacific Base To Help Solomon Islands Tsunami Victims
Pau, France (SPX) Apr 05 - A crew of specialists in emergency telecommunications is taking off on Tuesday from Telecoms Sans Frontieres' Asia and Pacific base situated on the campus of the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) to strengthen the coordination of relief teams supporting tsunami affected population in the Solomon Islands. TSF is notably deployed to support the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams (UNDAC).

Following the tsunami provoked by an earthquake measured 8.0 on the Richter scale with its epicentre situated 350km North West of Honiara, capital of Solomons, the archipelago's government declared state of emergency on Monday evening. A tsunami alert was sent to many regions of the Pacific short after the quake.Communications have been disrupted in several affected zones and upon arrival TSF will immediately put satellite communications equipment available in order to facilitate the first assessments and ensure reliable communication between the field and organizations head offices.

TSF's specialists in emergency telecommunications are carrying three mobile satellite data transmitters (Inmarsat Bgan and RBgan terminals) and satellite phones (Thrane and Thrane Mini M terminals) enabling to deploy communication centres with broadband Internet, phone and fax lines and other IT equipment.

According to the latest official report, which is still temporary notably due to telecommunications problems, the tsunami killed 24 people and left nearly 6 000 homeless.TSF is ready to deploy more crews from France depending on the needs of rescue teams and of affected civilians.

This mission is coordinated with the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) and funded by the Vodafone Group Foundation, the United Nations Foundation and TSF's partners listed at the bottom of this release.This is the 6th deployment of TSF with the United Nations since signing the agreement with UN OCHA and Unicef in May 2006.

Previously, TSF deployed to Suriname (May), to Indonesia (June), the Democratic Republic of Congo (August), Lebanon (August) and most recently to Mozambique following the floods and hurricane Favio which hit the country affecting more than 500 000 people in February and March 2007. In Mozambique, the three communication centres deployed by TSF benefited to 27 organizations during the first phase of the emergency response.

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