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Solomon Islands Post-Cyclone Relief Effort Criticized

A relief mission is under way in the South Pacific's Solomon Islands, which were battered by a massive cyclone Sunday. But there are complaints that officials have been slow to help.

The supply boat from Honiara, the capital of the Solomons, is expected to take two to three days to reach the three devastated islands of Tikopia, Fataka and Anuta.

Cyclone Zoe ran directly over parts of the tiny South Pacific nation Sunday, hammering it with winds over 300 kilometers an hour.

Aid experts have not been able to contact the islands to get a damage report, since their radio transmitter broke weeks ago, and the impoverished Solomon Islands government could not afford to send a new one.

Australian officials confirm heavy damage, but aid experts who flew over the islands say it appears the residents are beginning to recover from the storm.

Alan Marsh, the assistant director general of AusAid, an Australian government relief agency, spoke Thursday to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Damage to traditional houses - they had been knocked over. There had been damage to crops and gardens," he explained. "There appeared to be people on the islands of Tikopia and Anuta going about their business, including fishing in the lagoon. On Anuta, in particular, a number of houses - somewhere between 20 and 25 - had been rebuilt."

The islands have a population of between 2,000 and 4,000 people. They have no landing strips for planes.

The national government had delayed sending a relief boat, apparently because of a dispute between the Solomons government and the police department that operates the boat.

Australian media and charitable organizations are criticizing the government for not acting sooner to help the islanders. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that, after the storm, Canberra immediately offered help to the Solomons.

"You're dealing with a very remote part of the world, in an extremely poor country," Mr. Downer said. "Just the sheer logistics of getting to this place - there aren't air strips there to land…. We can only deal with the situation as we find it. It's not an easy situation."

Australia and New Zealand agreed to help fund the relief supplies, since the Solomons government was unable to pay.