A New Zealand police contingent, already in Honiara, is helping Solomon Islands police with the aftermath of a devastating storm.
Earlier it was reported a strong 6.0-magnitude earthquake has struck the Solomon Islands, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage.
The tremor, at a depth of 63km, hit at 10.40pm on Friday, some 30km west of the city of Kirakira.
The US Geological Survey issued a “green alert”, indicating there was a low likelihood of casualties and damage.
Meanwhile, at least 16 have been killed in floods in the Solomon Islands, making it one of the Pacific’s worst disasters of recent times.
About 30 people are believed to be missing, and there have been reports of children’s bodies floating down the main river in the Solomons’ capital of Honiara.
The floods, from a slow-moving tropical depression threatening last night to turn into a cyclone, have also left more than 10,000 people temporarily homeless in Honiara alone.
They are clustering in 16 evacuation centres in local schools on high ground in the city of 70,000 people, where the police have also been rounding up looters.
Aid workers fear outbreaks of diseases from polluted water.
An old bridge through Honiara’s Chinatown has been swept away, carrying a young mother and her baby daughter with it, said the Solomon Times, quoting a witness to the collapse.
Floodwaters have also been pushing against the city’s main bridge over the Mataniko River, which separates the central business district – including New Zealand’s High Commission – from Honiara’s closed airport.
National Disaster Management Office head Loti Yates said the floods were the worst he had been confronted with.
“This is by far the worst flooding I have witnessed since heading this organisation – the scale and magnitude is overwhelming,” he said.
Australia’s ABC news service had quoted the Solomon Islands Government as saying at least 16 people had died but Government spokesman George Hemming told the Herald that figure referred to the number of people being treated in hospital and the death toll was seven.
Search and rescue efforts were being hampered by heavy rain and huge waves battering the coast.
Oxfam’s Solomons country director Katie Greenwood said there had been a significant loss of homes along the Mataniko River.
There were reports of landslides and flooding on the western and eastern plains of the country’s main island of Guadalcanal, where the capital Honiara is situated.
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minster Murray McCully last night announced that New Zealand will make an initial contribution of $300,000 to support an immediate response to the disaster. He said reports were being received of flooding in other parts of the Solomon Islands, as well as the capital.
“The death toll is likely to rise and there appears to be significant damage to homes and infrastructure,” Mr McCully said.
“We are in close contact with the local authorities in Honiara and stand ready to provide further assistance as required.”
The minister said $250,000 of the relief money would be provided to agencies working on the ground in the Solomons to provide emergency supplies and shelter to flood victims.
A further $50,000 had been allocated to New Zealand’s High Commission for purposes identified by the Solomons’ Government.
Save the Children development programme director Rudaba Khondkher said the country’s predicament was dire, and feared the outbreak of diseases such as dengue fever in evacuation camps.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says 147 New Zealanders are registered as being in the Solomon Islands, although none had by late yesterday sought consular assistance.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs regional director Sune Gudnitz said from Fiji that the flooding followed days of heavy rain, which was still falling.
He said the depression was threatening to turn into a category one cyclone.
New Zealand MetService lead weather forecaster Mickey Malivuk said last night that although gale force winds may ease today, heavy rain was likely to continue from the depression.
He said it was heading slowly west, towards northern Queensland rather than towards New Zealand, as suggested earlier yesterday by the United States military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.
– NZ Herald/Newstalk ZB