Typhoon Leaves Critical Food Shortages; U.S. Joins Relief Effort
HONIARA, Solomon Islands (AP) _ Australia will airlift 350 tons of rice to the Solomon Islands to aid victims of Typhoon Namu, which killed at least 97 people and left a third of the archipelago’s population homeless, officials said today.
Casualty figures were expected to rise sharply when reports reach the capital of Honiara from outlying islands and provincial areas where devastation has been impossible to assess because the storm downed communications lines when it struck Monday.
Thousands of the estimated 90,000 homeless were seeking shelter and emergency supplies at ports, missions and airfields, and officials said they could be facing critical food shortages because the typhoon devastated local crops.
″So far we only know about the situation in Guadalcanal,″ said Dykes Angiki, chairman of the National Disaster Council. ″Reports from remote areas haven’t come in. We don’t know what happened there yet.″
Council member John Selwyn said international relief had provided adequate supplies for the moment, but ″there are still a lot of people to be visited and found.″
He said Australia was preparing to bring in 350 tons of rice by air, and that it was expected to arrive Sunday.
Four U.S. Air Force C-130 transports were also expected to arrive the same day from Hawaii, laden with emergency supplies of tents, medicine and more food.
Namu, packing 115 mph winds, hit the 200-mile-long island chain Monday morning and continued lashing it for 17 hours, snapping off trees, demolishing homes and virtually wiping out coconut, rice and copra plantations in the Guadalcanal plains, the country’s rice bowl.
Selwyn said it would be at least a half a year before rice production starts again.
A missionary involved in the international relief effort was quoted today as saying that Namu virtually had denuded the archipelago’s verdant tracts.
″What used to be thick jungles, extending over vast areas, have virtually become deserts overnight,″ Errol Wright, of the Seventh Day Adventist Western Pacific Mission headquarters in Honiara, was quoted as saying in an interview with the Australian Associated Press.
″Mountain tops have been stripped and what I saw was a huge desert for miles,″ Wright was quoted as saying.
The missionary, who had returned from the island of Malaita, 90 miles east of Honiara, was quoted as saying the Guadalcanal plain outside Honiara was ″a great sea of mud.″
Angiki said flooding and mudslides had devastated two dozen villages in the Guadalcanal plain where 22 bodies were unearthed Friday. Four deaths also were confirmed on Malaita, raising the official death toll to 97.
Australian Associated Press correspondent Alfred Sasako, who arrived in Honiara Friday, said the dead were being buried ″wherever villagers can find a dry spot.″
He said the food shortage was ″very serious.″
Angiki said 17 coastal trading vessels, four helicopters and six aircraft were engaged in the relief operation and that teams in canoes were canvassing outlying islands to assess the destruction.
Officials said Namu left more than a third of the island’s 240,000 people homeless, and described the late-season typhoon as the worst storm in the archipelago’s history.
The Solomons, a former British protectorate, are located 1,000 miles northeast of Australia.
Guadalcanal, a famous World War II battlefield where U.S. Marines scored a major victory against Japanese land-based forces, is one of the worst affected areas.