After heavy rains led to flooding on the island of Guadalcanal which has caused 23 confirmed deaths, the bishops of Solomon Islands have appealed for prayerful support for their people.
“We are experiencing a moment of a true Way of the Cross,” said Bishop Luciano Capelli of Gizo in a statement this week.
“Just remain close and if you can, also give us a hand,” the bishop added.
Several days of heavy rain led to flash floods and landslides on Guadalcanal, which resulted in the Mataniko river, which runs through the capital city Honiara, jumping its banks April 3.
“The cathedral and the hill of Holy Cross in Honiara are full of refugees,” said Bishop Capelli.
He added that “at Gizo and Malaita,” which are on neighboring islands, “things are more calm, but the water is abundant -- there are power cuts and people live in fear.”
Archbishop Adrian Smith of Honiara said April 7 several bridges connecting parishes on Guadalcanal have been destroyed, adding that “east of Honiara has been the cause of much worry for me.”
“The Good Samaritan Hospital at Tetere lost their ambulance,” he lamented. “It seems that it was on a rescue mission and was swept away by the flood.”
Several schools on Guadalcanal have been flooded – the students of St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School are being sheltered in the parish hall of Kukum.
Institutions in Tenaru are damaged, but have reportedly not been destroyed; these include St. Martin’s rural training center, the Nazareth Apostolic Centre, and Holy Name of Mary Seminary.
Bishop Capelli reported that the parish of Tetre is “totally submerged” under water, but parishioners have been safely evacuated.
"A very sad and depressing atmosphere looms all around us,” Fr. Ambrose Pereira, a Salesian serving in Honiara, told CNA April 7, as he described walking along the bank of the Mataniko in the city’s Chinatown.
“The Mataniko metal and wood bridge is completely destroyed,” he said, adding that “the concrete bridge, the lifeline that links Henderson with Honiara, has been severely damaged.”
“With people displaced, infrastructure down, and a limited food supply, the weeks and months ahead will be difficult,” Fr. Pereira said.
The Salesians’ Don Bosco Technical Institute has postponed its reopening, he said, while adding that “with a little more than 40 percent literacy rate, education is the key to a brighter future in Solomon Islands -- that cannot be compromised.”
“The floodwater is receding,” he said, “but the country has yet to come to terms with the full extent of the damage.”
“We ask you to lift us in prayer that we make the right decisions for the good of the students and the future of Solomon Islands,” Fr. Pereira concluded.
The death toll is expected to rise, and some 10,000 Solomon Islanders have been left homeless by the flooding; 50,000 are currently displaced.
Government officials have emphasized the grave damage to infrastructure across Guadalcanal.
Disease on the island is spreading, with sewer systems and water supplies damaged or destroyed. The national disaster management office has said dengue fever, dysentery, and malaria are all risks.
Forty percent of Honiara remained cut off from clean water April 8, including many evacuation centers, according to the Solomon Islands Water Authority.
The flood damage was compounded by a magnitude-6.0 earthquake which struck Solomon Islands April 4.
Australia has pledged US$ 2.8 million for relief, and New Zealand has pledged US$ 1.3 million. The New Zealand air force has already delivered water containers, tarps, and medical supplies to the area.
Solomon Islands, which lies in Melanesia east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu, is one of the world’s more impoverished countries, with an adjusted per capita gross domestic product of $3,200. The population is more than 90 percent Christian, with Catholics accounting for nearly 20 percent of the population.
The country has suffered extensive ethnic tensions, which led to open combat from 1998 to 2003.
Gizo Island was struck by a tsunami and an 8.0 magnitude earthquake in 2007, from which the country has yet to recover.