At least 19 people are dead and another 40 remain missing after devastating flash floods struck the Solomon Islands late last week. Another 49,000 people have been left homeless by the rising waters and over a dozen bridges have been washed out.
The floods were caused by a slow moving low pressure weather system that dumped rain on the islands on Thursday, causing major rivers in cities to burst their banks and inundate surrounding areas. The Mataniko River, which runs through the heart of the capital city, Honiara, pulled dozens of houses into the floodwaters and brought down a bridge as it overflowed its banks.
That weather system has since been upgraded to tropical cyclone Ita and could bring severe weather to parts of the Philippines still rebuilding after Hurricane Haiyan.
To add to the misery of islanders and the difficulty of the recovery effort a 6.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the region late Friday.
“This is unprecedented, and I’ve seen earthquakes and tsunamis and other very bad flooding incidents,” Katie Greenwood, country director of Oxfam told the Guardian.“But this flash flooding is unlike anything that I’ve seen previously here in the country.”
Aid workers have described watching children swept away by the flood waters.
On Saturday Australia pledged $250,000 to the Solomon government to help with relief efforts. Australia had already promised $50,000 in aid. New Zealand has also donated $300,000.
As cleanup and rescue efforts continue in the days and weeks to come, international aid organizations are warning of a potential public health crisis.
“Thousands of people are living in schools and other cramped conditions with poor sanitation and relying on rainwater for drinking,” Save the Children’s emergencies manager Graham Kenna told the AFP. “We expect an outbreak of dengue fever in two weeks.”
Diarrhea and eye infections are already becoming a problem in crowded relief shelters.
The main international airport reopened on Sunday after debris and the two houses that had washed up on the runway were finally cleared away.
In the latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Solomon Islands were highlighted along with other Pacific islands as areas at particular risk from climate change and sea level rise. In 2008, massive floods displaced 63,000 people in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Over half a million people call the Solomon Islands home.