Monday, 9 February 2009 9:40 AM

Search Escalates for Belgian Hiker Missing During Floods

Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, RAMSI Participating Police Force members and RAMSI military have joined forces to escalate the search for a 26-year-old Belgian man hiking in areas of Guadalcanal hit by recent floods.

Major flooding since January 27 has led to many parts of East and West Guadalcanal being declared natural disaster areas, with 10 confirmed deaths and 10 people missing.

Dries Stevens started a seven-day hike from the the Poha River area, across the island through thick jungle to Tangarare in the north west last Thursday - when the torrential rains started falling on Guadalcanal.

Police believe he decided to go up the Poha River and travel to Tangarare via the Veraghavai River valley. He was last seen in an area about half way across the island to the south of Chiri Village one week ago, and there are increasing concerns for his safety given the difficult conditions.

Acting Commissioner Peter Marshall yesterday requested an aerial search of the path south of Chira Village using a RAMSI PPF helicopter.

"PPF advisors also flew to Tangarare Mission station where they alerted locals to the missing man's plight. However the thick jungle canopy made visibility very difficult for searchers."

"A ground search by RAMSI CTF (Combined Task Force) soldiers from Tonga and Australia was deployed to Poha this morning. They are leading search and rescue efforts with local guides in the rough mountainous jungle country in the middle of the island".

"Giving the difficult conditions and over 15 river crossings, the soldiers are expected to take several days to cover the area Mr. Stevens planned to cover," Acting Commissioner Marshall said.

"Our advice is that he is a fit and healthy young man, a reasonably experienced hiker and was carrying enough food for at least seven days. The main threats to his safety would have been getting lost, suffering a serious injury or hypothermia."

"We are hopeful that a ground search will reveal more information from local villagers. If anyone has seen this man in the vicinity or has any other information concerning his present whereabouts I urge them to report it immediately to police or directly to any RAMSI military personnel in the area."

Mr. Stevens was last seen wearing a red T-shirt and light-coloured shorts.


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