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Aftershocks Hit Tsunami-Ravaged Parts of Solomon Islands


A series of aftershocks has shaken the Solomon Islands a day after a powerful tsunami hit the country's western provinces. Thousands of people are homeless after Monday's disaster, which left at least 28 people dead and many more unaccounted for. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The people of the stricken western fringes of the Solomon Islands have endured a night of repeated earthquakes.

In Gizo, where Monday's tsunami struck hardest, many hundreds of residents remain in the hills overlooking their battered town. They are too frightened to return to what is left of their homes.

Gizo was hit by waves up to five meters high. The town was just 45 kilometers from the epicenter of the magnitude 8.0 earthquake that triggered the tsunami.

A relief effort is under way, but given the area's remoteness and difficult terrain, officials say providing aid will be an arduous task. Helicopters and police boats have made the first drops of tents and water, but food, shelter and medicine are all in short supply.

There is still no clear picture of the scale of the disaster. Unconfirmed reports have said that up to 13 villages have been washed away.

Peter Marshall of the Solomon Islands police force says an accurate picture might not emerge for several days.

"I am very satisfied that we're working in a coordinated manner and we have every intention of assessing the situation fully as fast as we can, but as you'll appreciate, it is a very large geographical area," he said.

Aircraft belonging to international peacekeepers sent to the Solomons to quell ethnic unrest in 2003 have been carrying out surveys to assess the damage.

A team of disaster officials sent from the capital, Honiara, is expected to report its findings soon.

The tsunami also reportedly claimed up to five lives in Papua New Guinea, which lies due west of the Solomons. A family is missing after a three-meter wave struck the small island where they lived.

Australia has promised $1.6 million in aid, and the New Zealand government has also offered assistance.

The Solomon Islands is an impoverished nation of 500,000 people lying northeast of Australia.

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