SYDNEY, Australia — Dozens of people are missing and feared dead in the Solomon Islands after being washed from a ferry making a dangerous journey through heaving seas caused by Cyclone Harold.
Maritime authorities reported that at least two dozen passengers were aboard the ferry, the MV Taimareho, which set out late Thursday night, traveling from the capital, Honiara, to a port in Malaita Province.
The crossing through Iron Bottom Bay in the South Pacific nation is usually calm, with islands protecting much of the route, but maritime authorities had warned of dangerous conditions when the ferry departed.
Officials said the surging seas appeared to throw people overboard between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
On Friday morning, officials sent out a patrol boat to search for the passengers, but rescue efforts were hindered by whipping rain, heavy winds, large waves — and the coronavirus.
Though there are no confirmed cases in the Solomons, a small nation of 611,000 people that was the site of some of World War II’s most decisive battles, the country’s one rescue helicopter could not fly because a pilot was in quarantine.
Australia has donated about $60,000 in emergency funds to the Solomon Islands to assist with its response to the cyclone, a Category 1 storm that caused heavy flooding while damaging buildings and toppling trees.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said the storm was expected to continue moving slowly toward the southeast.
Harold was due to hit Vanuatu over the weekend or early next week.