WHEN a wall of water came roaring down Honiara’s Mataniko River towards her riverside home Anna Maena only had enough time to grab her two children and run.
She watched from a nearby hill as her home was swept down the river, leaving the family with just the clothes they stood in.
“All the houses were washed away,” she says. “They didn’t even float, they just sank.”
Now Anna, 41, her daughter Nelly, 7, and son Dickie, 5, are among approximately 9000 people living in evacuation centres throughout Honiara City after what many Solomon Islanders are calling the worst floods in living memory.
At Mbokonavera School evacuation centre where Anna and her family have been for a week, there are seven toilets for 1800 people and some of them are broken.
Anna’s family is living in a classroom with 17 people, and in some rooms there are up to 40 people crammed in.
Until Red Cross delivered purified water to the camp on Wednesday, Anna and her children had been desperately thirsty – because the water in the camp was only good for washing and cooking.
A week after the catastrophe the death toll has reached 21 with some still missing.
While teams comb the coastline for bodies, aid agencies are still trying to reach isolated areas of Guadalcanal where it’s feared there may be more casualties and people in dire need.
There have been isolated cases of diarrhoea, eye infections, respiratory illnesses, malaria and dengue fever at crowded evacuation centres, some of which have only a few toilets for thousands of people.
The Government is encouraging those who still have homes to return to them, so disease does not spread.
Solomon Islands Red Cross Society deputy secretary general Clement Manuri says the society’s focus right now is on safe, clean water.
The Fire Service has been supplying evacuation centres with water for washing and cooking, but drinking water is desperately scarce.
“We are operating our NOMAD water purification units from dawn till dusk, but as fast as we make clean water, it is used up.
“We hope more NOMAD units can be brought into the country as people are getting sick from drinking contaminated water,” he says.
The NOMADs can purify 5000 litres of water per hour.
Solomon Islands Red Cross has the only two units permanently in the country, and the only trained teams to operate them.
Australian Red Cross has sent a machine that is being urgently deployed. Fiji Red Cross and French Red Cross (New Caledonia) are also sending machines.
Staff and volunteers have also been delivering non-food items such as blankets, hygiene kits, jerry cans, sleeping mats and family kits as part of a multi-agency group of NGOs including Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision.
The Honiara City Council and NDMO are coordinating food deliveries to the evacuation centres.
The future for people like Anna and her children is uncertain.
No house, no belongings, and no plan of where to go now.
“Living here is alright but it’s not a good future,” she says sadly.
Solomon Islands Red Cross Society estimates more than 50,000 people in Honiara and Guadalcanal have been affected by this disaster.
By CORINNE AMBLER
Solomon Islands Red Cross