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Rescuers Report No Deaths on Cyclone-Ravaged Pacific Islands

Despite early headlines predicting many deaths, it appears all the residents of two small South Pacific islands survived a massive cyclone that hit 10 days ago.

Disaster relief officials from Australia and the Solomon Islands report all of the residents of Tikopia and Anuta survived Cyclone Zoe. Earlier news reports from Australia and New Zealand had expressed fears that hundreds of islanders might have died.

The storm hit the remote islands on December 29, battering them with winds topping 300 kilometers an hour.

Dozens of homes, mostly made of thatch and local materials such as palm fronds, were destroyed in the storm, as were crops. However, the islanders apparently did what they have done during many past storms, and hid in caves to ride out the wind. About 3,700 people live on the two islands.

Two relief boats already have reached Tikopia and Anuta, bringing enough food and medicines to carry the islanders for several weeks. A third boat was leaving the Solomons' capital, Honiara, on Tuesday, and should arrive with more supplies late in the week.

By the time the first relief boats arrived, a week after the storm, the islanders had resumed fishing, started rebuilding their homes and were clearing devastated gardens.

Tikopia and Anuta are about 1,000 kilometers from Honiara. They have no air strips, so supplies can not be flown in. The islanders normally communicate with the outside world by radio, but their transmitter apparently broke weeks ago, so relief officials could not assess the storm damage until the first boats arrived. The Solomon Islands government is nearly bankrupt. The nation has been wracked by a civil war and by corruption for several years.