A week after a powerful cyclone hammered three South Pacific islands, a patrol boat carrying relief supplies and a medical team finally reached the devastated region today, officials said.
A Solomon Islands police spokesman said the boat arrived at the island of Tikopia, 650 miles southeast of the capital, Honiara.
Before outsiders arrived by helicopter Friday and Saturday, it was feared that Cyclone Zoe might have killed thousands of people. But the inhabitants of Tikopia and Mota Lava survived by fleeing to mountain shelters, according to the first witness reports from the region. The situation on a third island, Anuta, remained unclear as radio links remained down.
New Zealand cameraman Geoff Mackley, who visited Tikopia, said that although the island “looks like Hiroshima” after it was hit by an atomic bomb, none of the more than 1,000 islanders was hurt. They had heard reports about the cyclone on their solar-powered radio and headed for shelter in the hills, he said.
For 12 hours last Sunday, Zoe lashed their tiny volcanic outcrop with winds up to 225 mph. The storm, the most powerful Pacific cyclone recorded, uprooted trees, destroyed houses and buried villages under 33-foot waves.
Meanwhile, French officials arrived on Mota Lava on Saturday and reported that there had been no casualties there.
Tikopia islanders, living in about 21 villages, have a long history of coping with cyclones. But residents told Mackley that the fruit they usually eat was ruined by the storm and that their water supply was contaminated by saltwater.
“Right now we are depending on great coconuts and other food crops we find left over from the cyclone,” one islander said in video shot by Mackley. “We expect some assistance from the government or people like yourself. Whatever assistance you give us, the people will depend on that for the meantime.”
The Solomon Islands, a country comprising about 80 islands, sits about 2,000 miles northeast of Sydney, Australia. The islands’ economy is near collapse following years of fighting between rival islanders that has left dozens dead and driven away foreign investors.