Solomon Islanders rebuilding, Australians say

People on two remote Pacific islands devastated by a powerful cyclone have started rebuilding their homes, Australian aid officials said today after flying over the area.

People on two remote Pacific islands devastated by a powerful cyclone have started rebuilding their homes, Australian aid officials said today after flying over the area.

Cyclone Zoe hit the islands of Tikopia and Anuta with winds of up to 225mph on Sunday, cutting off all communications with the outside world. It was still not clear today how much damage was done or if anyone was hurt.

AusAid assistant director-general Alan March said many traditional houses built of leaves and branches and been destroyed along with many crops.

“There appeared to be people on the islands of Tikopia and Anuta going about their business including fishing in the lagoon,” he said after flying over the afflicted islets in an Australian air force C-130 Hercules.

“On Anuta in particular a number of houses, somewhere between 20 and 25, had been rebuilt,” he said.

There was no evidence of injuries, March said, but added that his report was made from an aircraft flying 500 yards above the islands.

He said the Australian plane would be making another flight later today to gather further information to help aid efforts.

He said it was now believed about 3,700 people were on the two islands, which lie about 620 miles east of Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands – a former British colonoy.

An earlier estimate said about 2,000 people lived on the islands, neither of which have airstrips. It takes days to reach them by boat from Honiara.

Brian Beti, from the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office, said a disaster relief boat with food, water and medical supplies would leave Honiara tonight.

Australia has given €27,500 to buy food and radio equipment to go on the emergency boat from Honiara, which has been delayed because the cash-strapped Solomon Islands government could not pay for food and other supplies. New Zealand is contributing €35,000 for the aid mission.

March said the boat, which would take two to three days to arrive depending on the weather, would have “initial water supplies” for 700 families.

New Zealand cameraman Geoff Mackley, who flew over the more populous island of Tikopia yesterday in a chartered plane, had given a grimmer assessment of the situation than the Australian officials.

“Almost every building has been damaged, a few remain intact, while others have been shredded, and the sea has come through some villages, burying them,” he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer today defended his government’s belated assistance, saying the site is in a “very remote part of the world”.

“Given the logistics of the situation I don’t think there is anything else we could do,” Downer said.

The Solomon Islands is a chain of 80 equatorial islands 1,400 miles northeast of Sydney. The country’s economy is close to collapse following years of fighting between rival islanders that left dozens dead and caused an exodus of foreign investors.

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