Report – By Daniel Namosuaia in Honiara
A brave 10-year-old boy who survived the Solomon Islands flash floods, but lost his mother and three siblings, has recalled the dramatic moment he came close to death.
Patrick Beni said he and his mother and his three siblings – brothers Francis, 7, Junior 4, and sister Salome, 18 months – were at their Koa Hill home in Honiara the afternoon the floods came.
Their father was out at work.
The family had been renting the house for just over a year and during that period the nearby Mataniko River never rose to their house, even when it was flooding.
But last Thursday, young Patrick said he was in the house when he noticed the water rose to the floor of their home and saw houses and other debris washed down the river.
“I rushed in to wake mum who was sleeping in her room and told her we must escape because the floods are coming,” Patrick recalled.
“But mum responded by saying, ‘the water won’t reach our house’. I insisted she got up to see for herself,” he said.
By then, according to Patrick, it was too late to escape. Their house was surrounded by rushing water.
His brother Junior was the first victim. He was crushed to death by a falling sago palm tree standing near their house.
The second sago palm tree near their house also fell on the rushing waters.
Patrick said at that point, his mum grabbed hold of his baby sister and held on to one of the sago palm trees as it was washed downstream.
He and his brother Francis held on to the other palm as the rushing waters took them away.
“When we came to the old (Mataniko) bridge, I told my brother Francis to keep close to me as we squeezed our way through the debris that was blocking the bridge then, and came out on the other side.
“At that point too I lost sight of my mother and baby sister,” he said.
He said on the other side of the bridge, he saw a mattress that was floating down the river, grabbed hold of it and the two of them floated towards the main bridge.
“As we approach the main Mataniko bridge, I saw mum and my little sister in front of us.
“But I think my sister had already died when the water took them under the bridge because there was only little space for her to breathe between the water level and the bridge.
“My mum was only holding on to her at that time.”
Patrick said on the other side of the big bridge, he called out to his mum who was still holding on tightly to sister Salome.
“Mum didn’t reply as she was herself gasping for air at that point.
“After that, I didn’t see mum again. I believe they were drowned.”
As the water took them towards the ocean, he grabbed hold of two logs which allows him and his brother to rest on them as they were carried away into the sea.
“We floated out to where the fishing boats were anchored, but due to the rough sea and strong current it took us back to shore towards the United Church area.
“This time I was holding on to my brother as we both floated on a log towards shore,” Patrick said.
He said when they came close to shore where a wrecked barge was lying, those on the barge saw him and his brother.
“The men on the barge threw a rope to us. But when I tried to grab hold of the rope, I lost my hold on Francis.
“When I tried to grab hold of him again, the waves came and smashed him into the piles of debris. I never saw him again.
“At that point, I quickly shouted out, ‘Help me!’ and one guy came and rescued me before the waves smashed me into the debris of logs and sticks,” Patrick said.
He was rushed to the Central Hospital and was released after taking medical treatment for his injuries.
A scar on his head from injuries suffered when he was carried by the flood will remind him in years to come of his dramatic survival.
The bodies of his mother, brother Junior, and sister Salome were all recovered and already buried.
But Francis’ body, who was killed just before they reach the shore, is yet to be found.
Asked about his survival, Patrick said although he had survived, life will never be the same again for him.
“To lose a mother, two brothers, and a sister, is too heavy a burden to carry.
“I have been thinking about my mother, brothers and sister all the time. I miss them.
“Although I’m alive, I’m not happy because I lost them.
“Mum’s spirit has visited me, may be because I thought about her a lot.”
Patrick eventually reunited with his father and other relatives, but his family lost everything, including the rented home.
Daniel Namosuaia is a reporter with the Solomon Star. This article has been published with permission.