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Tikopia Island Residents Flee to Mountains to Survive Cyclone - 2003-01-04

Residents on a remote island in the South Pacific survived a powerful cyclone that hit the Solomon Islands by fleeing into the mountains. The first outsider to reach the island says villages and trees were destroyed by the storm's strong winds and waves.

Geoff Mackley, a freelance photographer from New Zealand, landed on Tikopia island Friday in a chartered helicopter. He said, despite fears of numerous casualties, people survived by fleeing into the hills. "Basically, everybody has survived," he said. "They all raced down to the beach when our helicopter landed. We were the first sign of life, first contact with the outside world since the event."

Cyclone Zoe packed winds of nearly 300 kilometers an hour. No one had been able to assess the damage, or casualties, as Tikopia and the islands of Fataka and Anuta have no airfields and landing strips. Radio and telephone communication has been impossible.

Mr. Mackley told VOA, several villages on Tikopia were completely wiped out by the storm and the 30-foot waves that accompanied it. "Pretty much everything on the island was wiped out," he said. "All the trees had been, basically, completely leveled or stripped of all vegetation - all fruit, all coconut trees, which are, of course, their source of food. Their water supply has been damaged by the storm, and has now been infected with contaminated water. Several villages have been completely buried and destroyed by the sea."

Relief boats carrying aid to the survivors on the islands are expected to arrive within the next few days. Australia and New Zealand are helping the bankrupt Solomons government pay for the relief effort. But, the delay in sending aid has drawn criticism.