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Quake and massive flood smite Solomons as fever looms

April 7, 2014 Destination Global, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A violent earthquake and the worst flooding in living memory have slammed the Solomon Islands, killing 16 people, washing houses onto the runway of the nation’s main airport and triggering a dengue fever alert. The calamities occurred shortly after a tourism leader outlined a plan to bring 1 billion tourists into the small Pacific nation.

A magnitude 6 quake slammed the Solomons as teams struggled to cope with the effects of deadly storm-fed flooding. The US Geological Survey reported no immediate damage from the tremor, which struck on Friday night about 240 kilometres southeast of Honiara.

Health authorities fear a deadly outbreak of dengue fever after the worst rains in living memory forced 50,000 people to flee their homes and seek shelter in cramped conditions with poor sanitation, Save the Children warned.‎

In an extraordinary juxtaposition, the disaster struck just after a Solomons tourism leader made one of the most optimistic projections for tourism ever recorded.

Solomons-based Islands Business International quoted Solomon Island Visitors Bureau (SIVB) chief executive Josefa Tuamoto telling 50 tourism operators that the SIVB aimed to increase visitor arrivals in the country to one billion.

“This year and beyond our ultimate aim is to increase visitors’ arrival into Solomon Island by reaching around 1 billion,” Tuamoto told the Solomons Star.

He explained that so far this year, about 23,000 visitors had arrived.

“In my records, visitors’ arrival into Solomon Islands is only 23,000 which very small and we want to take that number up to 1 billion,” Tuamoto reiterated.

The billion target has been put on hold as the country copes with disaster.

Australian Graham Kenna from Save the Children, in the nation’s capital Honiara said: “Thousands of people are living in schools and other cramped conditions with poor sanitation and relying on rainwater for drinking. We know this is likely to lead to diarrhoea and infections, while there is also a serious risk of a dengue fever outbreak.”

Meanwhile, the UN has called for a large-scale humanitarian response in the Pacific Island nation after flash flooding ripped houses from the ground and washed bridges away leaving Honiara isolated from the rest of the country.

At least 49,000 people are displaced and living in evacuation centres and other makeshift accommodation, with 16 people confirmed dead and dozens more still missing.

Save the Children is assisting the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), as well as working with interagency response teams and continuing to carry out assessments in Honiara despite relentless rain, and preparing to distribute aid as soon as practicable.

“The earthquake was the last thing we needed, frightening people who have already been through so much,” Kenna said.

“The scale of destruction is like something never seen before in the Solomon Islands. A house has even been washed onto the runway of the international airport. The raging floodwaters have washed entire homes out to sea, smashing the city of Honiara to bits.

“We’re deeply concerned for the safety, wellbeing and protection of children in this disaster, which is already the worst to hit the nation in living memory.”

Save the Children has child-friendly items ready for distribution as soon as practicable, including plastic sheets, buckets, jerry cans and blankets, and is sourcing more emergency relief items from around the world.

Save the Children has been working in the Solomon Islands since 1986, responding regularly to disasters including earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis and flooding.

Written by Peter Needham

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