Residents flee homes following South Pacific tsunami

Published: 2 April 2007 0:00 CET

Anna Nelson of the International Federation

People living in the western provinces of the Solomon Islands were forced to flee their homes in search of higher ground early on Monday, after a powerful, 8.2 magnitude undersea earthquake struck off the island of Gizo, triggering a tsunami.

The quake was followed by several severe aftershocks.

The Solomon Islands Red Cross (SIRC) reports that around 2,000 people, or 10 per cent of the population, in the provincial capital of Gizo Town, are now homeless, while around 500 houses may have been damaged or destroyed. Initial reports from other islands suggest similar or worse levels of damage.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is releasing 65,000 Swiss francs ($53,000 USD/euro40,000) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the SIRC in carrying out assessments, and purchasing and shipping relief supplies.

“Most survivors took to the hills and have not returned,” says the International Federation’s regional disaster management coordinator for the Pacific, Martin Blackgrove, who is based in Suva, Fiji.

“Roads are inaccessible and there has been heavy damage to infrastructure, including phones and electricity,” he adds. “Many people will be sleeping outdoors tonight and are not expected to return to their homes until Tuesday… that makes it hard to get accurate figures on the number of people who may be missing.”

The Solomon Islands Red Cross says fresh water is in short supply in some areas, while temporary, localized food shortages have also been reported.
Some of the affected areas are so isolated they can only be reached by boat.

Gizo’s airfield is still functioning, but debris needed to be cleared from the runway before it was fully operational. An aerial assessment was carried out by government officials, as well as a Red Cross expert, late on Monday to examine the damage.

The SIRC has a small warehouse in Gizo, which was still intact following the tsunami, but all emergency supplies stored there – including hurricane lamps and cooking sets – have already been distributed to affected people.

Trained volunteers and staff from the Red Cross responded to the disaster immediately, carrying out assessments and distributing relief supplies to survivors.

The Solomon Islands Red Cross is the only humanitarian organization in the country’s western provinces that has the capacity to simultaneously carry out detailed assessments and distribute relief assistance.

Red Cross branches in the region have pre-positioned satellite phones in case of emergencies such as this. Staff in Gizo have been using the system to relay information to the International Federation’s regional office in Suva.

They have also been using the local high frequency radio network to keep in touch with other Red Cross branches, although some affected places are so remote that no communication has been possible.

“This type of emergency is a prime example of why disaster preparedness and community risk reduction are so important,” says Simon Missiri, the head of the International Federation’s Asia Pacific department.

“If communities know what to do during a tsunami, they will run for higher ground when the sea suddenly pulls back and surges forward… They will also alert their friends and neighbours,” he adds. “In addition to awareness and training, it’s also incredibly important to have pre-positioned stocks of supplies and a radio alert and communication system in-place, allowing the Red Cross to get help where it’s needed fast.”

The International Federation is the world’s largest humanitarian organization. Thanks to its unparalleled network of National Societies and volunteers in communities around the world, it is able to respond to disasters quickly and effectively.

For more information on this story, please call:
Anna Nelson
Communications Officer for Asia & the Pacific
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Geneva, Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 730 2246