8 Apr 2014

Solomons boy shares survival story

8:59 pm on 8 April 2014

A young boy whose family was killed by a flash flood in the Solomon Islands has told his story of survival to aid agencies.

At least 23 people died, including children who were swept out to sea, and dozens of people remain missing after severe flash flooding last Thursday.

Families shelter at a Honiara evacuation centre.

Families shelter at a Honiara evacuation centre. Photo: AFP / World Vision / Rachel Skeates

Solomon Islands Oxfam director Katie Greenwood said one boy was swept out to sea by the floodwaters after seeing his entire house destroyed around him.

"And he said to himself, 'I just have to swim, swim really fast'. He went through this torrent of water and explained how he managed to survive holding on to a log and he was picked up by a fishing boat out in the ocean," Ms Greenwood said. "His family members were unfortunately killed."

More than 9000 people are sheltering in evacuation centres after losing their homes in flooding brought by a severe tropical storm that hit the islands last week.

In the capital Honiara, on Guadalcanal, houses collapsed into the flooded Mataniko River and the downtown area was inundated.

The Solomon Islands' National Disaster Management Office said on Monday it expected to run out of rations on Tuesday for those left homeless. However, Ms Greenwood said that was not the case.

"The Honiara city council, I think they were saying yesterday that the stocks of food that they had in store would run out today. Now my understanding is that that has been taken care of by the National Disaster Management Office who have in their stores food that they have given over to the Honiara city council."

About a fifth of the city's population were living in evacuation centres; some could return home but were too afraid to, Ms Greenwood said.

"This disaster happened in an unprecedented way. It was so fast ... it really came down in a wave over this community.That's an incredibly frightening thing to have happen."

Ms Greenwood said she hoped people would feel safe to leave the crowded centres as the weather cleared.

A boy among the rubble left by flooding in the Solomon Islands.

A boy among the rubble left by flooding in the Solomon Islands. Photo: Save the Children

World Vision Solomons director Andrew Catford said the non-government organisation was setting up child-friendly spaces within the evacuation centres housing thousands of people made homeless by the floods.

The family areas would involve a teacher running games and other activities, he said.

"Even just at the camp I was at, there was a whole lot of kids just sitting out there doing nothing and if they had something to take their minds off it, that usually makes a big difference. To bring back normality to their lives and a bit of structure and take their mind off what happened in this event. We found the same thing in the tsunami."

Volunteer Service Abroad Solomons programme manager Alexa Funnell said flood levels were receding, but there was a lot of work ahead.

"There might be a veneer of normality in the actual centre of town in terms of shops reopening, roads being opened up, trees being pushed to the side and rubbish starting to be collected. Small things like that. But that's just the surface. I think it's going to take many, many months before things actually get anywhere near normal."

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Photo: Save the Children