Tsunami's death toll grows in the Solomons
HONIARA, Solomon Islands » Survivors picked through ruined stores today looking for drinking water and food in a Solomon Islands town devastated by a tsunami, as the death toll edged higher and an international relief effort made tentative first steps.
Thousands of people in the town of Gizo in the South Pacific country's far west spent last night sleeping under tarps or the stars on a hill behind the town following a massive undersea earthquake that sent tsunami waves crashing through the town.
At least 28 people, including a bishop and three worshippers at a church, were killed in the Solomons and another five unconfirmed deaths were reported in neighboring Papua New Guinea. Officials said the toll was likely to rise further as a detailed aerial assessment was made of Gizo and surrounding villages where only scattered radio reports had been collected.
Arnold Moveni, the chairman of the disaster committee in hardest-hit Western Province, said 28 people were confirmed dead, and that the toll was expected to keep rising. Most bodies were found by residents as they searched through rubble for missing relatives, he said.
Moveni said the government had lifted a tsunami warning imposed since yesterday, and now wanted people to move back into the towns from the higher-altitude refuges they had fled to.
The U.S. Geological Survey initially measured yesterday's quake at magnitude 7.6, but later raised it to 8.1.
In all, at least 5,000 people were affected by the tsunami, National Disaster Management Office spokesman Julian Makaa told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
The tsunami was triggered by the quake that struck shortly after 7:39 a.m. yesterday six miles beneath the sea floor, about 25 miles from Gizo and 215 miles northwest of the Solomons' capital, Honiara, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The quake -- the strongest in the Solomons in more than three decades -- spurred tsunami advisories from Tokyo to Hawaii and closed beaches along the east coast of Australia more than 1,250 miles away. Lifeguards with bullhorns yelled at surfers to get out of the water at Sydney's famous Bondi Beach.
The danger passed quickly, but officials rejected suggestions they overreacted, adding that the emergency tested procedures put in place after the 2004 Indian Ocean disaster that left 230,000 dead or missing in a dozen countries.