Dozens of people missing after Solomon Islands ferry defies cyclone warning

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SYDNEY, Australia – Dozens of people are missing and feared to have died in the Solomon Islands after being washed off a ferry that makes a dangerous journey through rough seas caused by Cyclone Harold.

Maritime authorities reported that at least two dozen passengers were on board the ferry, the MV Taimareho, which left Thursday night, traveling from the capital, Honiara, to a port in Malaita province.

Crossing through Iron Bottom Bay in the South Pacific nation is generally smooth, with islands protecting much of the route, but maritime authorities had warned of dangerous conditions when the ferry left.

Authorities said the rising seas seemed to throw people overboard between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.

On Friday morning, officials sent a patrol boat to search for the passengers, but rescue efforts were hampered by heavy rain, high winds, high waves, and the coronavirus.

Although there are no confirmed cases in Solomons, a small nation of 611,000 people that was the site of some of the most decisive battles of World War II, the country's only rescue helicopter was unable to fly because a pilot was in quarantine.

Australia has donated around $ 60,000 in emergency funds to the Solomon Islands to help with its response to the cyclone, a Category 1 storm that caused heavy flooding while damaging buildings and knocking down trees.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said the storm was expected to continue to move slowly southeastward.

Harold was supposed to hit Vanuatu over the weekend or early next week.

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