The toll from the tsunami-hit Solomon Islands has hit at least 28 and is expected to rise as aid workers called for more supplies for the thousands who have been displaced since Monday.
The first disaster assessment teams arrived on scene on Wednesday, two days after a magnitude 8 earthquake triggered huge waves which swept homes into the sea.
Charles Kelly, the Red Cross secretary-general, told Australian radio that "the reported deaths will still go up" and appealed for more aid.
"I think the thing right now is water, water and tents. People are still up in the bush and are reluctant to go back to the villages."
"It's safe now to go back to the village, but you know people are still traumatised and are still up in the bush, but slowly some of them are going back"
Charles Kelly, Solomon Islands' Red Cross
Officials estimate that 1,000 homes were destroyed, with the Western and Choiseul Provinces taking the brunt of the tsunami.
An estimated 4,500 homeless people are being advised to return home as sanitation problems emerge at hilltop refugee camps.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said "public health experts are warning of the potential danger of malaria outbreaks among the displaced population".
But islanders are bracing themselves for more tremors amid continuing strong aftershocks and are reluctant to return to their villages.
"It's safe now to go back to the village, but you know people are still traumatised and are still up in the bush, but slowly some of them are going back," said Kelly.
International aid is coming in with pledges for more money and food, as well as medical supplies and services.
A six-member UN Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination team is en route to the cluster of South Pacific islands.
|The Red Cross says islanders |
need water and tents [Reuters]
Critics say that Monday's tsunami exposed the limitations of a warning system that supporters champion as the best means of avoiding a repeat of the Indian Ocean disaster in December 2004.
An American earthquake expert said an early tsunami warning system would not have made much difference in the Solomon Islands as people only had minutes to flee.
An Australian official, meanwhile, acknowledged that a tsunami warning issued for the Queensland coast was undermined by widespread panic and a lack of clear information about whether the waves were actually headed their way.
Peter Beattie, Queensland's prime minister, told the Seven Network on Tuesday: "We got the emergency people together and we were trying to ascertain 'is there really a tsunami coming, if so how big is it, and how far are we going to need to encourage people to leave the coastline?'
"We couldn't get that information... We didn't know the extent of the problem. We were shooting blind," he added.