UNICEF Staff Member Tells of Tsunami Experience
Buala, Solomon Islands, 16 April 2007 - “I felt the ground shake when I got out of the boat to go to Buala. I noticed the movement of water going out, far out. I was on the beach and I could see right across to the reef. It was the first time for me to see all the boats move out and the tide was really very low. The boat owners ran after their boats and had to swim out quick to bring their boats back.”
This was experienced by UNICEF Senior Programme Assistant, Wryne Bennett when an earthquake measuring 8.1 followed by a tsunami struck 345km northwest of Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara. The most affected areas include Gizo, Simbo, Ranogga, Shortlands, Munda, Noro, Vella la Vella, Kolombangarra and parts of the southern coast of Choiseul.
Wryne was returning to Buala Island where she is based, when an earthquake struck on Monday, April 2, 2007. She has since been redeployed to Gizo to assist in relief efforts.
“When I arrived in Gizo last Thursday, April 5th, there weren’t many people around. It was about 5pm and the airport was still closed. On my way home, I saw people still in shock. They were just staring at the ground. Debris was everywhere. Tremors were still being felt.”
“My husband and my 22 year old son who were doing some renovations to our home in Gizo said people ran like their lost their conscience. Luckily our home is behind the Gizo commercial centre and it’s situated on a hill,” she said.
“It was like the sea roared then this wave about 12 feet high suddenly came. People didn’t know it was a tsunami till the wave was already here. They ran like mad up the hill. You could see houses being destroyed.”
There are no accurate records yet on the number of people affected, since statistics are still being collected. In order to determine the exact number, a registration process is now underway.
People are still huddled in refugee camps on the hills. The National Disaster Tsunami Report stated that there is evidence of diarrhea, influenza and pneumonia. The report also states that medical assistance and medication are urgently needed in the refugee camps. Even though medical supplies, food and other aid continue to pour in, these are still insufficient.
UNICEF is coordinating with the National Disaster Management Office and collaborating with other UN agencies, including Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and UN Disaster Coordination and Assessment Team (UNDAC) to assist the people affected by the tsunami.
In the first few days of this emergency UNICEF has supplied four emergency health kits to cover up to 40,000 people for three months, more than 4,000 water containers, 13 recreation kits, three thousand sachets of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) and 6,500 bars of soap. UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Services started a Vitamin A and measles campaign for children from six months to 14 years.
UNICEF currently has eight additional staff on the ground in Honiara and Gizo to help coordinate UNICEF’s response to this emergency.