Hard times in the Hapi Isles

By now many of you will be aware that we had a tropical low sitting just south-west of Guadalcanal for much of last week (the prelude to Cyclone Ita), resulting in heavy rains and flash flooding. I have been told that it’s hard for others to get an idea from the limited media reports on the crisis though, so let me share with you some of my experiences over the past week.

It started raining on Tuesday 1 April and kept raining. It rained, and rained, and rained. It rained non-stop in Honiara for five days and the resultant flooding has been reported as one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history. I grew up in south-east Queensland and am used to tropical downpours and wet seasons. I also went through the 2011 Brisbane floods. But I have never experienced rain like the rain we had in Honiara last week.

The heavens opened and the water just thundered down.

The Mataniko River in flood, Honiara 4 April 2014

The Mataniko River in flood, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy K. Crombie)

The force of the water has widened drains, washed away river banks and has scoured out channels creating valleys and canyons. It has washed huge amounts of sediment down from the hills, covering roads and filling up drains, which then overflowed onto roads – making them impassable.

Further up the Mataniko River you can see the rivers of mud left behind after floodwaters receded, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy T. Bansby)

Further up the Mataniko River you can see the rivers of mud left behind after floodwaters receded, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy A. Bransby)

And as if that wasn’t enough, there were extraordinary high tides on Wednesday 2 and Thursday 3 April and an earthquake that hit Makira Province on Saturday night (5 April). We felt the tremors in Honiara – my housemate came running down from her room asking if I just felt the earth shake…

Earthquakes and general dampness aside I was extremely lucky, however many local residents did not fare so well. Houses along the Mataniko River were swept away in raging floodwaters, which wrought a wide path of destruction through Chinatown to the ocean, taking with them the Chinatown bridge and washing away the abutments of the Mataniko Bridge. People were caught up in the torrent and carried out with the debris, some later rescued by fishing boats.

The Mataniko River in full flood from the Mataniko Bridge, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy T. Bansby)

The Mataniko River in full flood – taken from the Mataniko Bridge, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy A. Bransby)

The flooded mouth of the Mataniko River, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy A. Bransby)

A girl with an umbrella sits at the end of the road, where the Chinatown bridge used to be, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy T. Bansby)

A girl with an umbrella sits at the end of the road, where the Chinatown bridge used to be, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy A. Bransby)

Mananiko River after the floodwaters had receded, Honiara 5 April 2014

Mananiko River after the floodwaters had receded, Honiara 5 April 2014

Mid-Mataniko River valley from Skyline Drive, Honiara 5 April 2014

Mid-Mataniko River valley from Skyline Drive – there used to be houses here, Honiara 5 April 2014

The site of the Chinatown Bridge on Mataniko River, Honiara 5 April 2014

The site of the Chinatown Bridge on Mataniko River, Honiara 5 April 2014

The latest news on the ground is that around 50,000 Solomon Islanders have been affected by the disaster, mostly on Guadalcanal. The official death toll is presently at 23 but there are many missing and the death toll is expected to rise. More than 9,400 people are homeless and sheltering in evacuation centres with limited supplies and inadequate sanitation, increasing the risk of disease outbreak. Emergency relief has started to arrive now that the airport has reopened, but more help is needed.

A New Zealand air force plane bringing emergency supplies lands at Honiara airport, 7 April 2014 (Courtesy M. Nunan)

A New Zealand air force plane bringing emergency supplies lands at Honiara airport, 7 April 2014 (Courtesy M. Nunan)

I and many of the other volunteers and expats in-country have tried to help in whatever way we can, including helping out at evacuation centres, loading trucks with food supplies and donating food and sanitary products. Many of us have experienced frustration that we haven’t been able to do more, or in some cases anything useful at all. I have been struggling with feelings of guilt (that I really wasn’t affected in any material way) and powerlessness that I cannot channel my compassion for these amazing people into action. First world problems I suppose, but the urge to help is fierce. Maybe one thing I can do  is to help raise awareness of the situation here.

Water levels got pretty high - some locals saw the upside. Honiara, 4 April 2014 (Courtesy T. Bansby)

Water levels got pretty high – some locals saw the upside, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy A. Bransby)

Huge amounts of debris were swept downstream in the flood and ended up on the banks of the Mataniko River (Courtesy T. Bansby)

Huge amounts of debris were swept downstream in the flood and ended up on the banks of the Mataniko River (Courtesy A. Bransby)

The overwhelming sense I have from this experience is that the Solomon Islands people are incredibly resilient and brave in the face of exceptionally difficult – and heart-wrenching – circumstances. That being said, they still need help to rebuild their lives. Emergency supplies, including pharmacy and medical supplies, are urgently needed.

If you would like to help, please consider a donation to

(Courtesy T. Bansby)

(Courtesy A. Bransby)

The sea front was covered in logs and timber debris from logging ships, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy A. Bransby)

Several ships ran aground in the rough weather, this one in front of the central market, Honiara 4 April 2014 (Courtesy A. Bransby)

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Thanks for reading.

L

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