SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA— Six thousand people are now thought to have been made homeless by a tsunami that struck the Solomon Islands Wednesday. The government says at least 13 people were killed. Charities say food and water is running low in makeshift hillside camps where villagers in the Santa Cruz Islands have sought shelter. Another huge aftershock has again rattled the South Pacific archipelago.
The damage inflicted by the tsunami is far worse than first thought, according to disaster management officials in the Solomon Islands. Several people are still missing after a magnitude 8 earthquake triggered a destructive wave that swept through low-lying villages.
At least 10 aftershocks were reported Friday, including a powerful tremor that forced villagers to flee to higher ground, although no tsunami alert was issued. Aftershocks continued Saturday, further unsettling islanders.
On Wednesday, a one-meter tsunami rushed through coastal communities in the Santa Cruz Islands. They lie in the eastern part of the Solomon Islands archipelago, more than 600 kilometers from the capital, Honiara.
Damage to the local airstrip had prevented aid reaching stricken communities, but medical supplies and other essentials are now being delivered.
Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo visited the region Friday and declared it an official disaster zone. His government has received offers of help from its neighbors.
Solomon Islands journalist Dorothy Wickham says Australia and New Zealand have volunteered to join the relief effort.
“These two countries might be helping out and maybe we also have the Japanese and European Union here, so I am pretty sure they will be either offering or will be asked for assistance," said Wickham. "But this is going to be a difficult one. It is a very remote place. Boats hardly go there and if it is bad weather it is really tough to get into the communities in that area.”
Charity workers say several villages have been destroyed, while many others have been badly damaged. The homeless have sought shelter in makeshift camps, where food and water are becoming increasingly scarce. There are also concerns about sanitation and the spread of the disease.
One aid worker said that many wells were covered by debris or had been contaminated, while water storage tanks had been destroyed and coastal areas littered with dead fish and poultry.
A Solomon Islands patrol boat loaded with supplies is expected to arrive soon, while another commercial relief vessel is due to arrive in the stricken region Sunday.
Australia has confirmed it will send a transport plane to help with the relief effort. Its foreign minister, Bob Carr, will visit the Solomon Islands Sunday.
The Solomon Islands are home to about 600,000 people. The South Pacific archipelago lies on the "Ring of Fire" - a tempestuous arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that stretches around the Pacific Rim, where about 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur.