HONIARA, Solomon Islands - Survivors scavenged for food and drinking water in towns hammered by a tsunami on the Solomon Islands' west coast, while officials said the death toll was 28 and would rise as they struggled to reach remote communities.

The first television footage of the devastated region taken by helicopter after Monday's double disaster _ a huge undersea earthquake followed minutes later by a surging wall of water _ showed building after tin-and-thatched-roof building collapsed along a muddy foreshore.

Men, some shirtless and wearing shorts, picked through the debris. Some buildings leaned awkwardly on broken stilts.

Many of the homeless spent Monday night sleeping under tarpaulins or the stars on a hill behind worst-hit town of Gizo after the magnitude 8.1 quake hit under the sea about 25 miles off the town. Walls of water up to 16 feet high plowed into the coast five minutes later.

Three medical teams _ six doctors and 13 nurses _ were to fly to the region Wednesday morning from the capital Honiara to treat an unknown number of survivors, National Disaster Management Office spokesman Julian Makaa said Tuesday.

The teams were to set up medical centers at Gizo and the nearby center of Munda and Taro island, Makaa said.

"They've been instructed to treat the injured there rather than bringing them back to Honiara," he said after a crisis meeting of senior lawmakers and bureaucrats authorized the mission.

Makaa said officials can only guess at the numbers of dead and seriously hurt in the remote and inaccessible west coast villages where two-way radio is the usual mode of contact with the outside world.

Arnold Moveni, chairman of the disaster committee in the Solomons' hardest-hit Western Province, said 28 people were confirmed dead, and that the toll was expected to keep rising. Most bodies were found by residents as they searched through rubble for missing relatives, he said.

Five unconfirmed deaths were reported in neighboring Papua New Guinea.

Makaa said an initial damage assessment was 916 houses destroyed with about 5,000 people affected, but that the final toll could be much higher.

The Red Cross said about 2,000 of those were homeless in Gizo, the main population center of some 7,000 in the zone, and that outlying villages still to be reached may have fared much worse.

Fred Fakarii, chairman of the National Disaster Management Council, said there had been one official assessment flyover, and another team would be sent soon to help draft a relief plan. Initial reports showed the "destruction was massive and widespread," he said.

Among the dead were a bishop and three worshippers killed when a wave hit a church during an ordination ceremony on the island of Simbo, the United Church said.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported from Papua New Guinea that a family of five had been washed away in that country's far east _ the first reported deaths there. Government officials there could not confirm any casualties Tuesday.

A 53-year-old New Zealand man drowned trying to save his mother from the waves during a visit to Gizo, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said. His mother remained missing.

Few of the homeless had even basic supplies, and their situation would quickly turn desperate, officials said.

"There is no food available" in the main settlements of Gizo and Noro, said Alfred Maesulia, a government spokesman in the capital, Honiara. "Some settlements have been completely wiped out by the waves."

One police patrol boat carrying emergency supplies arrived in Gizo from Honiara overnight and three private charters were due Tuesday. Australian and New Zealand military helicopters based in the Solomons as part of a security force also were expected to join relief operations.

Solomons Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Marshall said planes searching coastlines for survivors had spotted corpses, but added the terrain would be difficult to navigate.

"There are some very ragged, remote areas and there's no connecting roads, (just) isolated villages," he told ABC.

New Zealand Defense Minister Phil Goff said a military C-130 cargo plane was flying to the Solomon Islands on Tuesday with tents, tarpaulins and food for several hundred people.

The main airport at Gizo, phone and power lines, and coastal roads remained out of commission Tuesday.

Makaa said the airport had been cleared of debris and was expected to be assessed as safe to use Wednesday.

More than 25 aftershocks had shaken the region by late Tuesday, including two of magnitude 6.2.

Danny Kennedy, a dive shop operator, said survivors had ventured into Gizo looking for bottled water and other supplies _ and found a mess.

"Unfortunately a lot of the stores ... their cargo has fallen from the higher shelves and covered lower things, and the buildings are quite unstable," Kennedy told New Zealand's National Radio.

Marshall said officials would tolerate survivors taking goods they don't own until emergency supplies arrived.

"These are desperate times in Gizo," he said. "And we've got to be practical."

Makaa said drinking water was the most pressing need for many survivors.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare declared a national state of emergency and held meetings with his impoverished country's aid donors about getting help.

The Solomon Islands is a poverty-wracked archipelago of more than 200 islands with a population of about 552,000 people. On July 21, 1975, a large tsunami hit Bougainville, killing an estimated 200 people, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and World Health Organization.