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International Response to Solomon Islands Tsunami Victims Gathers Momentum

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says the international response to tsunami victims in the Solomon Islands is gathering pace. At least 34 people have been killed and more than 5,000 others displaced by a powerful earthquake and tsunami that struck the South Pacific nation Monday. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

The Red Cross Federation reports about 15,000 people are affected by the tsunami. Government health officials say the figure could be higher, with up to 50,000 people affected by the disaster.

Getting aid to the victims has been difficult. But, Red Cross Spokeswoman, Anna Nelson, says it should be easier now that direct air travel into Gizo, the hardest hit island, has resumed.

Over the past few days, she says relief items have had to be flown to an airstrip on the island of Mundo, which is not far from Gizo. From there, she says the supplies have been sent by boat to the more remote regions.

"In addition, planes from New Zealand, Australia and France have all been dispatched with relief items. So, the international response in terms of just getting the items there has definitely gathered pace," she said. "And, in terms of the Red Cross, Red Crescent response, the International Federation has sent a team of 10 disaster management experts who are now on the ground and are now active in that operation in the affected area. And, those include water and sanitation, health, relief experts who can really lend a hand and support to this response as well."

Latest assessments indicate a heightened risk of diarrhea is emerging in some of the camps for displaced people. The Red Cross says it is concerned a shortage of safe drinking water could lead to an outbreak of other waterborne diseases.

The National Disaster Council estimates between 900 and 2,500 houses have been damaged or destroyed by the tsunami. Schools and hospitals are affected and about half of the Islands' health centers are not operational. Food markets reportedly are closed, fishing disrupted and domestic farming damaged.

Nelson says volunteers from the Solomon Islands Red Cross began distributing relief items, such as sheets and tarpaulins to victims immediately after the disaster. She says about 60 volunteers are traveling by canoe to reach people stuck in very remote islands.

"It is still very difficult to know exactly what the situation is. The other thing that is happening is that every time there is an after shock, and the after shocks have been quite severe, earthquake magnitude after shocks, people run back to the hills," Nelson said. "They run for higher ground which is making it very difficult to get an exact clear picture of who is missing, who is homeless, who is displaced and where people really are."

The Red Cross has issued a preliminary emergency appeal for more than $800,000. It says priority needs are for water containers and purification systems, as well as medical supplies and cooking sets. It says some local communities are experiencing food shortages.