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Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Tuesday, 3 April 2007 14:11 UK

Aid reaches tsunami-hit Solomons

Damage at the town of Gizo
The death toll from the tsunami is rising

Emergency aid is finally trickling through to thousands of people stranded by the devastating tsunami which struck the western Solomon Islands.

At least 22 people died in Monday's disaster but the toll is set to rise, as many others are still missing.

Thousands of residents of Gizo town are now homeless, and many of them are due to spend a second night sleeping in the open in hills behind the town.

A series of aftershocks has shaken the isolated region still further.

The 8.0-magnitude undersea quake struck at 0740 local time on Monday (2040 GMT Sunday), and was followed by a tsunami which brought huge waves crashing down on the coastline of this remote Pacific region.

Hundreds of coastal homes, many made of palm and bamboo, did not stand a chance against the double onslaught.

There are many of us here, people are afraid to leave the higher ground
Arnold Pidakere,
teacher, Gizo

Most of the known victims were in Gizo, a small fishing town and diving centre only 45km (25 miles) from the epicentre of the quake.

Many of the town's buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed.

"Gizo has to be rebuilt," Western Province Premier Alex Lokopio told Radio New Zealand.

Other outlying areas were also badly affected. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said aerial patrols had reported "massive and widespread" destruction.

Damaged house at Gizo
Many of the bamboo and wooden houses were damaged

A bishop and three worshippers were reportedly killed when a wave hit a church on the island of Simbo, and reports of deaths have also come in from several other areas.

A 53-year-old New Zealand man is known to have drowned there while trying to save his mother, who is also assumed to have died in the disaster.

The Papua New Guinea government is trying to confirm reports that a family of five in the country's south-eastern Milne Bay was killed in the tsunami.

Aid arrivals

Solomons officials estimate that 5,000 people were affected by the disaster, and Mr Lokopio said people were in desperate need of water, food and tents.

House in Noro, Western province - 2/3/07
Homes and gardens are still flooded

Helicopters and a police patrol boat had made the first deliveries of aid by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, but far more is needed.

"Many water tanks have been damaged, and we also have a problem with food supplies. The gardens have been inundated, so there is a problem with fresh food," a spokeswoman for Australian aid agency Caritas told Australian radio.

Deputy police commissioner Peter Marshall said officials would tolerate survivors taking goods they did not own until more supplies arrived.

"They are desperate times in Gizo," he told the Associated Press, "and we've got to be practical".

Airstrip repaired

Many of the town's residents spent the night on nearby hills, sleeping in the open.

"Basically everybody is still up on high ground because we are still receiving really quite major aftershocks," said Danny Kennedy, a local dive shop owner.

But there is hope that more aid will arrive in the region soon.

The Gizo airstrip is now usable after being cleared of debris, and Australian and New Zealand military helicopters based in the Solomons as part of a regional security force are set to join relief operations.

The UN says it has offered assistance to the government, and Australia has pledged $1.6m in emergency aid.



video and audio news
Aerial footage of the tsunami aftermath



SEE ALSO
Eyewitness: Solomon Islands tsunami
03 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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