Flood disaster claims 12

Up to 30 people missing and thousands homeless after river bursts

Many Honiara houses were lost when the Matanikau River burst its banks. Many fresh water supplies have been contaminated. Photo / World Vision
Many Honiara houses were lost when the Matanikau River burst its banks. Many fresh water supplies have been contaminated. Photo / World Vision

Dozens of people are still missing after flash floods that have killed at least 12 people and left about 10,000 homeless in the Solomon Islands.

Local media said about 30 people remained unaccounted for after Thursday's flooding which followed days of heavy rain.

Much of the capital Honiara was inundated as thousands of people took refuge in emergency shelters.

A state of emergency has been declared amid concerns over food and water supplies and damaged infrastructure.

Gallery: Flooding in the Solomons

Solomons Red Cross secretary-general Joanne Zoleveke described the floods as "a tragedy none of us saw coming".

Honiara's main river, the Matanikau, burst its banks in the storm, sweeping away houses and bridges and flooding the downtown area.

"We were watching the river but never expected it to rise so fast. It took us by surprise. That is why there are deaths," Zoleveke said.

Eleven evacuation centres have been set up at schools and at Honiara's international airport, said the World Vision aid agency.

The domestic airport terminal is under water and there are fears about the spread of disease once the water subsides.

It is feared that the floods have caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the islands' infrastructure.

Other parts of Guadalcanal province - where the capital is located - have also been declared disaster zones, officials say.

"Clean water sources have been contaminated, sanitation facilities destroyed and there is a lack of medicines to treat people who get sick," said Lawrence Hillary, World Vision's emergency response manager.

Water levels were reported to be subsiding yesterday, allowing debris to be searched for bodies. The impact of the flood was made worse because it struck so fast, giving people little time to escape from their homes.

"I witnessed a mother and two children swept away in their home," Paul Lega told the Solomon Star. He said the devastation was the worst disaster the nation has seen.

Save the Children said the scale of the damage was still unclear outside Honiara as both bridges out of the city had been cut off. In the city thousands of homes have been washed away.

Damage caused by flooding in Honiara is estimated to run into millions, the Star reported.

New Zealand has given an initial contribution of $300,000 and Australia has pledged at least A$50,000 ($54,000) to support relief efforts.

- Herald on Sunday

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