Escape to Mile Six in the Solomon Islands

Published: 7 April 2007 0:00 CET

Rosemarie North of the International Federation in Mile Six Camp, Ghizo Island

It was during the daily early morning church service at Saeragi village on Ghizo Island that people first heard the warning.

“The chief told people to run away,” says 14-year-old Litia Naomi, recalling the morning of Monday, 2 April, when a terrifying tsunami struck the Western Provinces of the Solomon Islands. "The sea just rose, like a flood… then we could see a big wave out at sea."

The village fled. But 66-year-old Collin Sivai could not run. Four years ago, his foot was amputated following an injury. Using his crutch, he tried his best to beat the water, making it as far as the church, which was built of sago leaves.

Inside, he waited as the sea water steadily rose. The grandfather points to his knees –that is as high as the water reached. When the wave receded, he left his ruined village and climbed laboriously to higher ground, to a reunion with his children and grandchildren at a camp they call Mile Six.

A day or two after the disaster, a few brave souls returned to look for things – pots, pans, clothes, anything that could be salvaged.

"I wanted to go back and look for some of our things but there was nothing," says Collin's daughter, Freda Kami Kera, during a visit by the Solomon Islands Red Cross and International Federation delegates.

So far, the Red Cross has distributed food, water, tarpaulins and mosquito nets to Mile Six camp. In collaboration with international staff, the local Red Cross branch in the provincial capital of Gizo is constantly monitoring the situation, especially in camps, to make sure aid meets people's needs.

Days of aftershocks following the powerful earthquake that triggered the tsunami have left the local population rattled.

Collin's grandson, 18-year-old John Peza, and plenty of other people at Mile Six camp fear the worst. "We're afraid to go diving for fish," he says.

The village's canoes are damaged or missing. His mother, Freda, isn't sure about returning home. "Maybe we'll find a new place, where it's safe for us… I used to love Saeragi village but not since we had this disaster,” she says. "If only life could just go back to normal."

Meanwhile, camp life is not easy. John, who loves sports like football, netball and tennis, says he has no energy on rations of rice and tea.

"We are not so happy here because there's nothing to do," says John. Freda hasn't heard from her teenage daughters since Monday. "I sent my husband to go and look for them but he injured himself with a knife when he was setting up our tent and he can't walk to town."

Nearby, Mary Soni holds her one-month-old baby. She ran up the hill with the baby, her two other sons, her two sisters, and their parents. Now their home consists of planks of wood on the grass under a tarpaulin strung between a tree and a piece of wood.

The International Federation’s relief coordinator in the Solomon Islands, Andrew Mcalister, says shelter, food and water and sanitation will be key areas of work for the immediate relief effort.

The International Federation's regional disaster management unit in Kuala Lumpur is sending 2,000 mosquito nets, 250 tents with a capacity for 4 to 5 people each, 1,000 tarpaulins, 1,000 hygiene kits and 1,000 kitchen sets to the affected area. A small generator is on its way from the Solomon Island’s capital of Honiara.