1,000 new survivors of 200mph cyclone found

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The Independent Online

Inhabitants of two remote South Pacific islands in the Solomons chain appear to have survived a massive cyclone unscathed, but they face an uncertain future, with villages and crops destroyed and their government ill-equipped to help them rebuild their lives.

Inhabitants of two remote South Pacific islands in the Solomons chain appear to have survived a massive cyclone unscathed, but they face an uncertain future, with villages and crops destroyed and their government ill-equipped to help them rebuild their lives.

A week after Cyclone Zoe pounded the volcanic outcrop of Tikopia with high winds and huge waves, islanders told a New Zealand cameraman who landed there by helicopter that the entire population of more than 1,000 people had escaped by fleeing to mountain shelters, their traditional hideouts.

The French military, meanwhile, announced that there were no casualties among the 1,000 or so people living on Moto Lava, 125 miles southwest of Tikopia. A French Navy team flew a helicopter there and reported that landslides had demolished houses and cut off roads, but otherwise normal life had resumed.

There was no word on the fate of the population of Anuta, a third smudge of land in the isolated Santa Cruz group hammered by Zoe last weekend. But officials in the Solomon Islands were optimistic that, here too, locals had taken shelter in caves and on high ground.

A definitive assessment of the toll exacted by Zoe, one of the worst storms ever witnessed in the region, will not be given until aid workers arrive aboard a police patrol boat despatched from the capital, Honiara. The boat, expected to arrive early today local time, is carrying food, fresh water and medical supplies. A commercial vessel with emergency supplies paid for by Australia and New Zealand is about a day behind.

Aid agencies in the region had feared the worst after the cyclone swept across the islands, which have no airstrips and scant communication with the outside world. But a solar-powered radio receiver gave inhabitants of Tikopia advance warning of its approach.

While news of the islanders' survival was greeted with jubilation, aid officials expressed concern about their future once international attention – briefly focused on the Solomon Islands in the wake of the cyclone – moved elsewhere. Villagers on Tikopia said they would not be able to grow sufficient food for their needs for at least three years.

The Solomon Islands are heavily reliant on foreign aid, the government debilitated by years of maladministration and ethnic fighting. The few foreign investors fled after a coup in June 2000. Australia, the largest and richest country in the region, has been criticised for failing to act more quickly after the cyclone.

The cameraman who landed on Tikopia by helicopter, Geoff Mackley, said he had been amazed to find people alive. "I thought I would see hundreds of dead and festering bodies," he said, "but instead we were just overwhelmed with people running towards the plane."

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