United States Pledges Assistance After Solomon Islands Tsunami

By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – In response to the deaths, destruction and homelessness caused in the Solomon Islands April 2 by the 8.1-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami, the United States has contributed $250,000 in disaster assistance funds to support immediate relief needs in these South Pacific islands.

The funds will support humanitarian assistance organizations that are addressing shelter, health, water and sanitation needs in the area.

“The United States offers its condolences to the people and government of the Solomon Islands,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in an April 3 statement. “Our Ambassador to the Solomon Islands has spoken with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Foreign Minister Patteson Oti to express our sympathy and to offer U.S. assistance.”

The earthquake struck 345 kilometers northwest of the country’s capital, Honiara. At least 30 smaller aftershocks have occurred but have caused no further reported damage.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Hawaii, part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, issued tsunami warnings for the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea almost immediately after receiving notification of the earthquake. (See related article.)


Nearly 30 people have died, 19 have been injured and more than 5,400 have been forced to flee their homes, according to an April 3 statement from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many more people are missing and unaccounted for, and three government-organized search-and-rescue missions are under way.

The government had declared a state of emergency and, based on an aerial assessment, reported that on Choiseul Island, in the north of the country, about 1,000 houses were destroyed. Investigations have been impeded by communication outages and difficulty accessing the affected areas.

Authorities are coordinating humanitarian relief efforts with the help of the local Red Cross office. Priority needs include tents, tarpaulins, food, utensils, water, containers, medical supplies, clothing and tools.

The U.N. Children’s Fund has pre-positioned emergency medical supplies in the Solomon Islands for up to 10,000 people, including 10 emergency kits, five “school-in-a-box” kits and three recreation kits.

Public health experts are warning of possible malaria outbreaks among the displaced. The World Health Organization is sending a staff member from its office in Fiji to provide technical support and advice on malaria control, and the Pacific Community secretariat is working with authorities to distribute mosquito nets and insecticides. The Pacific Community is composed of 26 nations and territories.


The Solomon Islands earthquake struck just hours before a group of 60 people, many of them experts in tsunami warning, gathered 6,637 kilometers southeast in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a workshop on tsunami warning operations hosted by the Malaysia Meteorological Department.

The workshop was co-sponsored by the International Oceanographic Commission (IOC) Pacific Tsunami Warning System, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

“The IOC/WMO workshop was the first time a large number of Pacific Island Meteorological Service and Disaster Management officials have ever attended a meeting of the IOC/ICG Pacific Tsunami Warning System,” said Edward Young, deputy director of the Pacific Region for the U.S. National Weather Service, in an April 4 e-mail communication from Kuala Lumpur.

“The purpose was to bring national meteorological services up to speed on the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, and national tsunami warning responsibilities.”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System has 26 participating international member states and monitors seismological and tidal stations throughout the Pacific Basin to evaluate potentially tsunami-causing earthquakes and send out warning information.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii is its operational center, providing tsunami warning information to national authorities in the Pacific Basin.

With funds from the U.S. WMO Voluntary Cooperation Program – which offers member states equipment and services or training and education, Young said, “we were able to fund [workshop participation for] Loti Yates from the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), who was in the air about to arrive in Malaysia when the earthquake struck.”

The Solomon Islands have two NOAA Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN) systems, he added, one at the National Disaster Management Office and one at the Meteorological Service Office.

EMWIN is a suite of data access methods that make available a live stream of weather and other critical emergency information. Each method has unique advantages. EMWIN's current methods in use or under development for disseminating the basic datastream include radio, the Internet and satellite.

Both EMWIN systems were working, Young said, and it is likely that they received the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center tsunami bulletins.

More information about the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is available on the NOAA Web site.