2 Apr 2007

Official death toll after earthquake and tsunami in western Solomons up to 12

8:27 pm on 2 April 2007

The Solomon Islands government says that at least 12 people have been killed after a huge undersea earthquake in the country's west this morning.

The tsunami followed less than half an hour after an 8.1 earthquake hit at 7:39am Solomons time between Western Province and Choiseul province.

The wave washed away a number of buildings and property along the coastal areas, including the Choiseul village of the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Government spokesman Dr John Roughan says Choiseul province has been hit particularly hard, accounting for most of the confirmed deaths.

"There was one child it seems in Gizo town, which is in the western province that is the provincial capital, but the others were an older person an older woman was in her hut near the sea that was of course washed away she never had a chance. Fortunately it happened in bright sunshine. People could see the movement of the sea."

Aftershocks with a magnitude of up to 6.7 have been reported.

The government of Western Province has appealed for relief assistance following the tsunami.

The wave washed away a number of buildings and homes along the coastal areas in the province and neighbouring Choiseul province.

The provincial government estimates that at least fifteen people have died..

The provincial premier, Alex Lokopio, says up to four thousand people have taken refuge in the hills near Gizo and desperately need water, food and tents.

'For the next three or four days if there is not any thing coming from Honiara or any other parts of the world, there are people here in Gizo who will be sitting down here under trees for day and night....

A resident of Gizo, who witnessed the tsunami, says a lot of people remain in the hills where they had sought safety.

Alexander, who works for the Catholic church in Gizo, says he was in a boat at sea when the tsunami hit the town and he was able to watch the people run into the hills.

It caused a lot of damage round this place, including a church one of the towers falls off, and even the town supply system, powers cut off at the moment, a lot of people are somewhere up in the hills but all the pigs in the sea, some houses have been floating, houses have been floating, boats are floating out.

The Catholic agency for justice, peace and development, Caritas, has pledged ten thousand dollars towards immediate relief assistance for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.

It says that through its contacts it has learned of significant destruction, with two villages near Gizo - Nasabaaruka and the fishing village - where around 200 people had been living, have been completely destroyed.

The New Zealand foreign minister, Winston Peters, says the government offers its condolences to Solomon Islands in the wake of the destructive earthquake.

He says New Zealand is ready to offer assistance.

Mr Peters says a helicopter with the regional assistance mission has been sent to assess the situation.