A nameless deadly storm

23 dead, 50 still missing in flash flooding in Honiara 

I t left as quickly as it came. And despite it being nameless, the storm that whipped up flash floodings on April 2 had left a swathe of destruction in its wake in Honiara and across the nation. Authorities were caught napping. Today, as outpourings of financial and in-kind support flood in from within and abroad, the extent of the destruction was only beginning to emerge.

The cost of reconstruction and resettlement of displaced families is expected to run into tens of millions of dollars. Of the 50 people listed missing, only 23 bodies, less than half the people missing were retrieved. As they count the cost, authorities were wondering how they missed the torrential rain that had caused so much damage to infrastructure, housing and food gardens.

The nation’s laid-back and time-forgotten culture probably had much to do with it. The torrential rain began innocently enough on the night of Tuesday April 1st – the universal Fools’ Day. And fooled it did authorities here. No one including authorities took much notice of the torrential rain that began to pound Honiara and its surrounds relentlessly on Wednesday morning. What authorities didn’t realise was that it had been raining nonstop for two days in the hinterland.

As a result, the headwaters of Mataniko River which divides the city of Honiara into East and West had swollen to dangerous levels. There was no warning as the river broke its banks, unleashing a fury of unstoppable flash flooding downstream. By midday on Wednesday April 2, the Mataniko River, which gave birth to the nation’s name, had broken its banks. [More than 440 years ago, Spanish explorer, Alvro de Mendana set foot in Honiara, where his men found gold in the Mataniko River. As Mendana thought about it, he reckoned this must be where King Solomon in the Bible found gold to build the Temple in Jerusalem.] As the torrents of floodwaters rushed through the meandering Mataniko River system, nothing could be saved, let alone, withstand Mother Nature’s fury. Houses, trees, sago palm and anything else that stood in the way were merely uprooted, flattened and swept away.

The debris simply made its way to the river mouth and into the ocean beyond. Several women and their children trapped inside their houses simply vanished within seconds. In one instance, one entire family decided to go with their brand new house. Calls by neighbours to evacuate were ignored. “We spent so much money building this house. Leave us alone to die in our house,” was the parting words of the father, who prior to the wall of water engulfing the house, was watching a movie in the comfort of his house that Wednesday afternoon.

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