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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tsunami Rescue Effort Struggles

ReutersSurvivors looked for food and drinking water on Tuesday in towns on the Solomon Islands hammered by a tsunami the day before, while officials said that the death toll had reached 28 and was likely to rise.
HONIARA, Solomon Islands -- Survivors looked for food and drinking water on Tuesday in towns on the Solomon Islands hammered by a tsunami the day before, while officials said that the death toll had reached 28 and was likely to rise.

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 tin-and-thatched-roof buildings collapsed along the muddy shore.

Men, shirtless and wearing shorts, picked through the debris. Nearby buildings leaned awkwardly on broken stilts.

Many of the homeless spent Monday night sleeping under tarpaulins on a hill behind the hardest-hit town of Gizo after the magnitude 8.1 quake hit under the sea about 40 kilometers offshore. Walls of water up to five meters high plowed into the coast five minutes later.

Three medical teams -- six doctors and 13 nurses -- were to fly to the region Wednesday morning from the capital Honiara to treat the wounded, National Disaster Management Office spokesman Julian Makaa said Tuesday.

The teams were to set up medical centers at Gizo and the nearby center of Munda and Taro island, Makaa said.

"They've been instructed to treat the injured there rather than bringing them back to Honiara," he said after a meeting of senior lawmakers and bureaucrats authorized the mission.

Makaa said officials could only guess at the number of dead and seriously hurt in the remote and inaccessible west coast villages, where two-way radio is the usual mode of contact with the outside world.

Arnold Moveni, chairman of the disaster committee in the Solomons' hardest-hit Western Province, said 28 people were confirmed dead, and that the toll was expected to keep rising. Most bodies were found by residents as they searched through rubble for missing relatives, he said.

Five unconfirmed deaths were reported in neighboring Papua New Guinea.

Makaa said an initial damage assessment was 916 houses destroyed with about 5,000 people affected, but that the final toll could be much higher.