Solomon Islands Flooding: At Least 23 Dead, More Than 50,000 Affected

April 7, 2014

At least 23 people are dead in the Solomon Islands after torrential rain from a slow moving tropical cyclone caused rivers to burst their banks and send a torrent of water rushing downstream into low-lying, highly populated areas.

Dozens of people were reportedly still missing more than four days after the floods first struck, meaning the death toll will likely continue to climb.

"The death toll will likely grow. It will likely take until at least the end of the week before we get a firm figure," Andrew Catford, World Vision Solomon Islands' national director, told the Wall Street Journal.

Water from the Matanikau River destroyed bridges, homes and other infrastructure as it inundated the downtown area of the Solomon Islands' capital of Honiara. Homes and bodies could be seen floating amongst the debris carried away by the floods.

Rural towns in the country's main island of Guadalcanal were simply washed away by the water, leaving no trace of life.

"This is unprecedented, and I've seen earthquakes and tsunamis and other very bad flooding incidents,”  the country director of Oxfam, Katie Greenwood, told The Guardian. “But this flash flooding is unlike anything that I've seen previously here in the country.”

Tropical Cyclone Peipah

The tropical cyclone that flooded the Solomon Islands is now named Peipah. It is slowly churning west toward the Philippines. The map above shows the latest forecast path. (Image courtesy Weather Underground)

Tragic tales of individuals being swept away by the powerful currents were all too common. In one such case, the Solomon Star reports that the body of a student who fell into a river on Thursday was recovered all the way out at sea on Saturday.

Children were especially devastated by the abruptness of the flash floods. A three-year-old girl was left behind in the rush of evacuations, but was in safe keeping with a local college, the Solomon Star reports. However, other children were not so lucky.

"My staff has witnessed a child being swept away by the floodwaters," World Vision's Emergency Response Manager Lawrence Hillary told Al Jazeera. "They are devastated by what they have witnessed."

All told, more than 10,000 people lost their homes in the devastating floods, the Wall Street Journal reports.  More than 50,000 people across Guadalcanal have been affected by the floods, according to the New Zealand Herald. With most of the area's infrastructure leveled, the thousands displaced by the event sought shelter at local evacuation centers.

But there might be no refuge there, either.

With so many people coalescing in evacuation centers, emergency workers fear the lack of sanitation services and fresh water could lead to an outbreak of disease in camps.

"We're quite concerned about the possibility of outbreaks of disease due to the problem of water access - as many of these evacuation centers are schools, there's limited water in those schools," Cherise Chadwick from Solomon Islands Red Cross told ABC Australia. "The main water network has also been heavily disrupted, so we're trying to get the main water network up and running, but that's obviously taking some time."

Officials in New Zealand and Australia have already pledged funds to aid those in the Solomon Islands, but with so many still missing, the recovery effort is only just beginning.

People with rain wear and umbrellas cross a bridge over the flooded Mataniko River in Honiara, Solomon Islands.(AP Photo/Solomon Star)

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