At least 15 villages have been washed into the ocean on one of two Pacific islands devastated by a massive cyclone, an anthropologist said today.
The Solomon Islands of Tikopia and Anuta were scoured by Cyclone Zoe’s 225mph winds on Sunday. All communications with the outside world were cut and there has been no news on casualties.
Judith MacDonald, a New Zealand anthropologist who used to live on Tikopia, said today that at least 15 villages there had been washed away.
“The damage is tremendously severe and (the villagers’) chances of surviving will be pretty bad,” she said after viewing aerial footage of the island.
New Zealand cameraman Geoff Mackley, who flew over Tikopia on Wednesday, said the sea “has come through some villages, burying them”.
Cyclone Zoe was classified as Category Five – the most powerful nature can generate. From the air, palm trees could be seen flattened on pristine beaches, and thatch huts were stripped to their frames on the islands.
About 3,700 people live on the chain of 80 equatorial islands that make up the Solomons – a former British colony – 1,400 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia.
Late last night, five days after Cyclone Zoe unleashed its fury on the islands, the first boat carrying aid workers and emergency food, medical and water supplies left for the Solomon Islands' capital Honiara.
The 620 mile trip to the islands could take up to two days depending on the weather.
The Australian and Solomon Islands governments were more upbeat after seeing images shot from an Australian air force C-130 Hercules plane that flew over the islands to assess the damage.
Loti Yates, Director of Natural Disaster Management Organisations of the Solomon Islands, said many coconut trees had been damaged or uprooted.
“But the very impressing thing about it is that most of the traditional houses were left intact,” Yates said.
And Australian officials who flew low over the area on Wednesday said they did see signs of life on the rocky islands.
“There appeared to be people on the islands of Tikopia and Anuta going about their business, including fishing in the lagoon,” said Alan March, assistant director-general of the Australian government aid agency AusAid.
“On Anuta in particular, a number of houses, somewhere between 20 and 25, had been rebuilt,” he said yesterday.
There was no evidence of any injuries, but the video images were made from an aircraft flying 1,600ft above the islands, he added.
Hermann Oberli, a doctor in Honiara, said yesterday before leaving on the relief ship that islanders are bound to have been hurt by flying debris.
“If you have trees and treetops flying through the air, you expect quite a few people to be injured,” he said.
Australia and New Zealand, the two wealthiest nations in the southwest Pacific, have been criticised by some aid officials and opposition parties for the delays in assessing the damage and getting a relief ship to the islands.
“It is absurd that nearly a week after the cyclone we still don’t know what casualties there are, or the needs of the people,” said Keith Locke, New Zealand Greens Party MP and foreign affairs spokesman.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said his government would look at how aid delivery could be speeded up once the crisis was over in the Solomons.
“It is always possible to do things better and I think that you learn from each experience,” he said.
The Australian government has said the Solomon Islands is a sovereign state and it could only act after a request for assistance was made from Honiara.
The Solomon Islands’ economy is near collapse following years of fighting between rival islanders that has left dozens dead and driven away foreign investors.
The Australian and New Zealand governments have said they would help fund the emergency relief.