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On the 3 April, flash flooding triggered by prolonged heavy rainfall swept through the Solomon Islands, killing at least 17 people and leaving more than 20 missing. An initial assessment estimated that 12,000 people in the capital city of Honiara were affected. Another 37,000 people across Guadalcanal province were displaced when the Mataniko River burst its banks and carried entire riverside communities away.
The flooding in Honiara forced staff from The Solomon Islands Red Cross to evacuate from their headquarters and establish an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at the Honiara Hotel from where they have been coordinating relief efforts. More than 10,000 people remain sheltered in 26 evacuation centres set up around the city. Red Cross teams assisted in the evacuation of vulnerable communities along the Mataniko River and registered people in shelters. Emergency response teams deployed to the main evacuation centres have been working with other relief agencies and the National Disaster Management Office to distribute food and non-food relief items.
Electricity and water supplies to the city have been disrupted, and there are growing concerns for the health of the local population.
"We really need to get on top of helping these people live comfortably and hygienically, and ensure they are being fed and looked after well. That's our greatest concern now here in Honiara," says Joanne Zoleveke, secretary general of the national Red Cross society.
The Solomon Islands Red Cross has put out a call for urgent donations of clean clothing for flood victims, many of whom arrived in evacuation centres with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Days after the flood, most evacuees are also in need of basic hygiene products like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, nappies and feminine sanitary products.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has mobilized an international team to support the Solomon Islands Red Cross and will be releasing funds from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.
Support is also arriving from the Red Cross Societies of New Zealand and Australia who are dispatching non-food items including shelter tool kits, tarpaulins, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, blankets, water containers as well as water bladders and tap stands to ensure that communities have access to clean water.
Zoleveke says one of the main challenges the operation is facing now is reaching communities outside of the capital. “Our volunteers have reported extensive damage especially in the eastern parts of Guadalcanal,“ she says.
Transporting relief supplies has not been easy. Until recently flights were suspended at the Honiara International Airport due to debris on the runway and damage to navigation and lighting systems. One of the main bridges that divide the capital has collapsed and the only remaining bridge to transport supplies across the city has been severely weakened.