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Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Monday, 2 April 2007 16:23 UK

Tsunami sparks Solomons emergency

A member of the Australian Navy helps a Solomon Islands' police officer load relief supplies onto a ship in Honiara.
Emergency aid is being rushed to the affected areas

A state of emergency has been declared in the Solomon Islands after a tsunami struck, killing at least 12 people.

Whole villages are said to have been wiped out around the main town of Gizo in the western Solomons.

The scale of devastation should become clearer once results of an assessment are known, but officials warn the number of dead could rise further.

They have called for emergency supplies to help hundreds of people who are spending the night in the open.

Huge waves several metres high followed the 8-magnitude undersea earthquake which hit at 0740 local time on Monday (2040 GMT Sunday).

We ran for our lives, away from the waves
Arnold Pidakere
Teacher, Gizo

A tsunami alert was raised around the Pacific. Beaches on Australia's east coast closed and people fled, fearing a repeat of the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004 that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The alert was called off several hours later as it became clear the devastation was concentrated in the area around the Solomon Islands.

Running residents

Gizo, a small fishing town and diving centre on Ghizo island, was only 45km (25 miles) from the epicentre.

Many people were washed people out to sea, officials said.

"We ran for our lives, away from the waves," Gizo primary school teacher Arnold Pidakere told the BBC News website.

"When we looked back, we saw our house being destroyed.

"There are buildings on the hills that were damaged by the earthquake."

Mr Pidakere said children were missing and the residents badly needed food, and even more urgently, water, as all the area's water tanks had collapsed.

"We have no medical assistance. We haven't received any help at all," he said.

Map of Solomon Islands

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare warned more bodies could be found as assessment teams try to gauge the true extent of the damage.

"My heart goes out to all of you in this very trying time," Mr Sogavare said in an address to the nation on Monday evening.

Government officials and the Red Cross were setting up a base in the Western Province, of which Gizo is the capital, to co-ordinate assistance.

The Solomon Islands deputy police commissioner said he was "satisfied that we are working in a co-ordinated manner".

"We have every intention of assessing the situation fully as fast as we can," Peter Marshall told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Marshall said tents, drinking water and other supplies had begun to be dropped on the hill behind Gizo - with more expected after daybreak on Tuesday.

The Australian government has already pledged A$2m ($1.6m) in emergency aid, and has made helicopters available for rescue and relief work.

The Solomon Islands has a population of about 500,000 people - many of them living on remote and widely scattered islands.

Many people live in houses made of palm and bamboo on the islands' beaches.



video and audio news
Aftermath of the tsunami



SEE ALSO
Eyewitness: Solomon Islands tsunami
02 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Gizo at centre of tsunami fears
02 Apr 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Tsunami explained
19 Jul 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Earthquakes rock Pacific nations
25 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
How earthquakes happen
01 Jun 09 |  Science & Environment
Deadly history of earthquakes
06 Mar 07 |  Special Reports

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