SYDNEY (AP) — Strong aftershocks rattled the Solomon Islands on Friday, hampering relief efforts to tsunami-ravaged villages and forcing the South Pacific nation's prime minister to forgo a visit to the stricken area, where nine deaths have been confirmed.
Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo was on a plane to Santa Cruz Island in the eastern Solomons to assess damage when an aftershock hit, said Silas Lilo, a spokesman for his office, forcing his plane to return to the capital, Honiara.
The plane made a second attempt to reach the island and landed successfully late Friday, said Andrew Catford, the Solomon Islands director for the relief agency World Vision. The plane — the first to attempt to reach Santa Cruz since Wednesday's tsunami — was carrying shelter kits, water carriers, medical supplies and medical staff, though the prime minister was not able to join the crew on the second trip. A boat with more supplies was expected to arrive Friday night, Catford said.
Officials were already struggling to reach the isolated region when a magnitude-6.6 aftershock hit Friday morning, damaging roads in the island's main town of Lata and preventing aid workers stationed there from reaching people on the coast, Catford said. The aftershock, the most significant since the 8.0 earthquake that sparked Wednesday's tsunami, didn't produce any tsunami warnings itself.
"My staff said it felt stronger than the initial earthquake and people are very concerned. Most of Lata town was evacuated. It's like a ghost town," Catford said. "We've had over 115 aftershocks, but unlike all the others, this one moved vertically up and down. For the first time, it's created cracks in the roads."
A stronger magnitude-7.1 magnitude aftershock struck late Friday. There was no tsunami risk and no immediate reports of damage.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced Friday that his government will help deliver emergency food and medical supplies and conduct aerial reconnaissance of disaster-affected areas. Carr plans to fly to the Solomons on Sunday to discuss the recovery effort.