50,000 homeless in Solomon Islands

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Posted by Mission Network News

3 April, 2007

Solomon Island (MNN) -- The Solomon Islands in the South Pacific was hit with a massive earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale. The quake hit the remote western region of the tiny island nation Monday morning (local time). It leveled buildings and damaged a hospital on Gizo island northwest of the Solomon's capital, Honiara. A tsunami described by witnesses as the height of a two-story building sucked homes into the sea as thousands of panicked residents fled to higher ground.

World Vision has been working in this region for 25 years. World Vision's program manager Frieda Kana says the earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated the area. "At least 60,000 or more people have been affected. Many have lost homes. They had to spend the night in the hills under trees."

According to Kana, many people have died. "Communication is really poor, so it's impossible at this time to really get the confirmation on the death toll or the injuries."

Kana reported that the quake and tsunami delivered a "one-two punch" to some villages. "Up to 20 villages have been completely washed away. World Vision and other organizations are planning to deliver water, food and shelter."

While World Vision doesn't have any programs in the region hit by the earthquake and tsunami, that's not stopping them. "We have a mandate to respond to any disaster in the country."

World Vision's Rachel Wolff says there are challenges associated with this disaster. "There are still islands where we haven't received any reports back. World Vision nor the Government (are getting these reports), so we have no idea how many are affected there. So these estimates are just based on the places that we have been able to establish communication."

In one of the worst hit towns, Gizo, just 25 miles from the quake epicenter, we have heard reports of deaths and numerous injuries, as well as reports that the local hospital has been flooded with water, making it difficult for health workers to treat the wounded.

According to Wolff, there is also another issue. "The main airport in Gizo has been hard hit; the airport has been flooded. So it's going to be a challenge even just to get there."

Meanwhile, families from Nukiki, Zepa, and Luta villages in Southern Choiseul have been searching for missing relatives since the tsunami struck.

Beyond providing immediate aid, World Vision is planning to help restore water and sanitation to affected communities since they have one of the leading teams with these skills in the Solomons. Kana has already met with governmental and other disaster specialists to begin coordinating this response.

Since World Vision is a Christian organization, Wolff says they're being the hands and feet of Christ. "Disasters are the one of the best chances to show God's unconditional love, and World Vision is doing that around the world and certainly in the Solomon Islands."