HONIARA, Solomon Islands — The first boatloads of international aid reached survivors of a devastating tsunami in the Solomon Islands on Tuesday, but officials warned of a dire food shortage if supplies don't quickly get to hundreds of people camped on remote hillsides.
At least 28 people died in Monday's tsunami and quake, measured at a magnitude of 8.1 by the U.S. Geological Survey. The victims include a bishop and three worshippers killed when a wave hit a church and a New Zealand man who drowned trying to save his mother, who remains missing.
Disaster officials said the toll was expected to rise as rescue crews reached outlying villages that were flattened by the waves. Bodies could be seen floating in the water by authorities conducting aerial surveys of the destruction; there was no official count of those missing.
The government cited an unconfirmed report that six people were killed on Simbo Island by a landslide triggered by the quake - potentially pushing the toll to 34.
Some of the more than 2,000 people who spent Monday night camped on a hill behind the town of Gizo returned Tuesday to look for supplies or loved ones. Others were too afraid to venture to the coast amid more than two dozen aftershocks, including at least four of magnitude-6 or stronger.
Julian Makaa of the National Disaster Management Office said more than 900 homes had been destroyed around Gizo and about 5,000 people affected.
Boats reached Gizo on Tuesday from the Solomons' capital, Honiara, carrying food and other supplies, some of which was distributed to survivors. But officials said shortages would become dire within days without more help.
Gizo's airport remained closed, and helicopters or a boat journey of several hours were the only ways to get emergency supplies to the town.
"We have not reached people as soon as we could ... because of the widespread nature of this particular disaster," said Fred Fakarii, chairman of the National Disaster Management Council. "Our difficulty is getting to them quickly with what we have on the ground."
Many canoes and other boats were sunk or washed away by the tsunami and fuel was contaminated with seawater, adding to the transport woes, Western Province premier Alex Lokopio said.
Australia, New Zealand, the International Red Cross and the United Nations were among those offering aid. The United States announced a donation of $250,000 for immediate relief.
No formal relief plan was announced after a day of meetings by senior government officials. Makaa said the airport had been cleared of debris and would reopen today.