Survivors scavenged for food and drinking water in towns hammered by a tsunami on the Solomon Islands' west coast, while officials said the death toll was 28 and would rise as they struggled to reach remote communities.
The first television footage of the devastated region taken by helicopter after Monday's double disaster -- a huge undersea earthquake followed minutes later by a surging wall of water -- showed building after tin-and-thatched-roof building collapsed along a muddy foreshore.
Men, some shirtless and wearing shorts, picked through the debris and broken buildings.
Many of the homeless spent Monday night sleeping under tarpaulins or the stars on a hill behind worst-hit town of Gizo, after the magnitude 8.1 quake hit under the sea about 40km off the town. Walls of water up to 5m high plowed into the coast five minutes later.
Three medical teams -- six doctors and 13 nurses -- were to fly to the region this morning from the capital Honiara to treat an unknown number of survivors, National Disaster Management Office spokesman Julian Makaa said.
The teams were to set up medical centers at Gizo and the nearby center of Munda and Taro island, Makaa said yesterday.
"They've been instructed to treat the injured there rather than bringing them back to Honiara," he said after a crisis meeting of senior officials authorized the mission.
Makaa said officials could only guess at the numbers of dead and seriously hurt in the remote west coast villages where two-way radio is the usual mode of contact.
Arnold Moveni, chairman of the disaster committee in the Solomons' hardest-hit Western Province, said 28 people were confirmed dead, and the toll was expected to keep rising. Most bodies were found by residents as they searched through rubble for missing relatives, he said.
Makaa said an initial assessment was 916 houses destroyed with about 5,000 people affected.
The Red Cross said about 2,000 of those were homeless in Gizo.
Initial reports showed that the "destruction was massive and widespread," said Fred Fakarii, chairman of the National Disaster Management Council.
Among the dead were a bishop and three worshippers killed when a wave hit a church during an ordination ceremony on the island of Simbo, the United Church said.
Few of the homeless had even basic supplies, and their situation would quickly turn desperate, officials said.
President Chen Shui-bian (
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday that the government had donated US$200,000 as part of its humanitarian relief efforts and that the ambassador has conveyed the nation's condolences to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
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