7 Feb 2013

Airport flood hinders tsunami aid effort

9:53 pm on 7 February 2013

Damage to a key airport in the tsunami-stricken Solomon Islands is preventing aircraft from landing and hampering aid efforts.

Officials say nine people are confirmed dead after an 8-magnitude quake on Wednesday generated a wave that swamped coastal communities on the island of Ndende in the eastern Solomons.

The one-metre-high wave surge was triggered after the quake off the island of the Santa Cruz islands 600km from the capital Honiara, at 12.27pm UTC on Wednesday.

The township of Lata bore the brunt of the giant wave, and its airstrip has been covered with debris.

Aircraft can only fly over the region to survey the damage, and basic aid supplies are having to be sent on boats.

World Vision estimates 3,500 people have been displaced by the tsunami and says some houses in the town of Venga were shifted 10ms by the surge of water and almost all homes in Nela village were washed away.

The Solomon Islands Red Cross said the remoteness of the disaster zone, more than 600 kilometres from the capital Honiara, is hindering relief efforts, with the island's airstrip closed due to debris.

It says the death toll is likely to rise as reports come in from isolated communities.

Channel Iroi, the acting permanent secretary responsible for national disaster, confirmed the deaths are from Nela, Luova, Bimbir, Venga and Malo villages on Santa Cruz.

Twenty quakes recorded in region

The quake sparked a tsunami warning for New Zealand, Australia and several Pacific island nations but was lifted later on Wednesday.

The US Geological Survey has recorded more than 20 quakes in the area since Wednesday's main tremor, some registering 6.6 and 6.4 in magnitude.

A quake in the Solomons in 2007 killed 50 people, destroyed several villages and left thousands homeless.

NZ makes funds available

The New Zealand Government has made $200,000 available for humanitarian supplies and support to the Solomon Islands government assessment teams.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says due to the remoteness of the area it might take some time for the Solomon Islands government and relief agencies to gain a full picture of the damage.

He says the New Zealand Government will consider additional assistance in due course.