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Aid Filters Through to Tsunami Survivors in Solomon Islands


International aid has begun reaching survivors of a tsunami in the Solomon Islands. At least 28 people were killed when a magnitude 8.0 earthquake sent giant waves crashing into remote parts of the South Pacific archipelago. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The scale of the disaster in the western part of the Solomon Islands has yet to be revealed. Bodies have been seen floating in the sea by authorities conducting aerial surveys of the devastated areas, which would raise the confirmed death toll of 28.

But a final count of the dead and missing is still some way off, as rescue workers have yet to reach some outlying villages.

Aid has started to arrive in the isolated area, which is located on the western fringes of the Solomons archipelago. Officials say much more is needed.

The airport at Gizo, one of the hardest-hit towns, has been cleared of debris, which should allow the relief operation to be speeded up.

Officials of the stricken region were quoted as saying a supply boat had reached the area from the national capital, Honiara, with food, water and tents. New Zealand says it sent transport aircraft with tents and tarpaulins, and has also delivered water to the island of Munda, which was also hit by the tsunami. Medical teams are preparing to fly into the region.

Three days after the tsunami struck, thousands of Solomon Islanders are still camped on hillsides, with barely enough food or water, adequate shelter or medicine. Aftershocks continue to shake the region. Relief workers have reported the first signs of disease among survivors of the disaster.

Eyewitnesses say there is not much left of the town of Gizo, which was battered by waves up to five meters high.

Australian expatriate Naomi Baea, who runs a tourist resort near Gizo, recounts the moment when the tsunami hit.

"The adrenaline was pumping like crazy and people's possessions and dead dogs and things like that were floating away from Gizo," she said.

Australia, the United States and the International Red Cross have also pledged money and assistance. Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson says Australian peacekeepers stationed in the Solomons will join the relief effort.

"We've got quite a lot of people that have been injured, displaced, and of course have lost their lives in this earthquake and tsunami, and of course Australian soldiers in a coordinated whatever [will] provide assistance they can," he said. "That's the Aussie way."

Australian and New Zealand military helicopters are also expected to take part in the relief operation. The Solomons government has declared a state of emergency.

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