Death and Destruction in the Solomons
On April 2nd at 7.40 am a strong earthquake (8.1) occurred 45 kilometres from Gizo, followed within a few minutes by a tsunami which was experienced as a series of waves reaching at least three metres in height in Gizo, with larger waves experienced on other islands. In places such as Sasamunga in Choiseul, the water reached 500 metres inland. Over sixty smaller earthquakes continued over the next two days. The town of Gizo had some protection from the reef and faces away from the epicentre. Despite this, the damage was still huge from the water as well as the earthquake. Villages such as Titiana (pronounced "Sisiana") and New Manra (plus others) were exposed to the full onslaught of the waves and were largely or totally washed away.
Dozens of people were drowned or killed and tens of thousands were rendered homeless.
Fr Rex Curry and the parish Council decided to have a special collection at both Churches on Easter Saturday/Sunday. Parishioners spoke in support of the special appeal at each Mass and approximately A$11,000 was raised. This was supplemented by a generous donation of A$1,000 from the St Vincent de paul Society. A parishioner was travelling to the Solomons to assist in the aid work and was able to spend the money directly in key areas to assist the people, many of whom were in a desperate situation.
There follows the report of the initial devastation. At the end is a summary of how the money so generously donated was spent.
The Diocese of Gizo has been devastated. Many villages have been washed away, some with people still in their houses. In some areas the people saw the water receding and, recognizing this as the first stage of a tsunami immediately ran to higher ground, thereby saving many lives. In other places there was simply not time to escape or anywhere to go as the land was too low. The death toll throughout the area currently (6/4/2007) stands at 34 but it is expected that the toll will rise as time goes on. Close to Gizo, the village of Nusabaruka, home of many Catholics, has been washed away, and reports suggest that other major Catholic villages have also suffered huge losses.
In Gizo itself the Cathedral was very badly damaged by the earthquake and lost its steeple, bell and part of the front wall. The water swept though the Diocesan Offices and surrounding buildings, causing major damage and destruction. The Bishop's House is still standng but like many other surviving buildings in the town, much inside is damaged as a result of the earthquake.On the Island of Loga, home of the Dominican Community and many Diocesan workers, water inundated the buildings but the people were able to escape to the hills behind. It is likely that many people including the Dominican Sisters have lost all their possessions. The convent is probably unrepairable, having been washed off the foundations. The new leafhouse eating area off the kitchen was destroyed by the earthquake.
Moli has suffered from water damage. The extent of damage and loss is not yet known. Other parts of the Parish did not fare well. At least two people died in Sasamunga as a 12 foot wave penetrated 500 metres inland and caused a mud slide. The provincial capital, Taro, was evacuated when it was feared that the water would cover the island on which it is situated. The Parishes of Wagina and Sirovanga seem to have escaped with little damage.
In the Shortland Islands most villages have suffered from extensive flooding and many buildings are lost. According to the initial report of the National Disaster Coordinators, Toumoa has lost 75% of its houses, the clinic and the Church. In Nila the Church, community hall, Clinic, Nurses' homes and St Anne's Vocational School have been damaged by water. Gaomai has also suffered, losing the clinic and 10 houses with everything in them. There are reports that the Church has also been washed away. Malei also has lost everything from the clinic. Some of the reports from the Shortlands are at variance with this information, so we will update the situation as further assessments are made.
There has been no report of major damage to date from the Catholic communities of Canaan and Noro. The large commercial wharves in Noro were severely damaged by the earthquake.
The jetty at Vanga Point is wrecked and a later earthquake caused significant damage to a large workshop and woodworking classroom.
In summary, it is likely that a great deal of the Diocesan infrastructure has been damaged or lost, including the Cathedral, the Sisters' convent on Loga and possibly several of the village Churches. Many people from the Diocese are homeless and have lost most of their possessions, including their canoes and their gardens, if they were covered by salt water. Several clinics will need to be rebuilt. Many families are mourning their dead, some of whom may never be found.
The following report was provided to the Parish upon return from the Solomons.
"I have recently returned from the Solomon Islands, having left Sydney a few days after Easter. The initial intent was to assist the people and Bishop Bernard O'Grady who said the Soul Mass at Mona Vale in March. However, your generosity made it possible to achieve much more than I expected.
Over Easter, you, the parishioners of Pittwater Parish gave very generously to assist approximately 10,000 people who were very seriously affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Over 1,000 homes were totally lost and over 1,000 badly damaged. 52 or more died and there are about 100 missing.
Fr Rex and the Parish Council asked me to take the $10,726 and decide how to best apply it. The Mona Vale Conference of St Vincent de Paul also gave $1,000. On top of that, other parishoners made direct deposits, our sailing club gave me $1,000 and our children and friends donated money. Kathy Gray of the Parish rallied other pharmacists and provided containers of antibiotics and other much needed medicines. St Vincents Hospital Melbourne gave a big box of bandages which went as unaccompanied baggage. I took a 40Kg bag with mostly medicines and few clothes. Airline people were very good in not charging excess bagagge including the light aircraft with a 15Kg limit. The medicines went 50% to Gizo hospital and the other 50% went straight onto a US Navy helicopter for the Nila Clinic- right up near the Solomons border with Bougainville in PNG. We were able to get the radio equipment generously donated by a member of Pittwater Parish onto the second Caritas ship in Honiara and taken most of the way to Aleang with the remainder of the journey completed by canoe.
The extent of the damage was huge and we have put some of the photos on the internet at http:///www.catholicgizo.org (then go to “Disaster Photos”). The tsunami did the worse damage and caused nearly all the fatalities, over 50% of whom were children. I was amazed to see patches of ground where literally everything had been washed away. The village of Titiana (pronounced “Sisiana”) lost every building except a United Church which was badly cracked by the 'quake. Fourteen people died there.
I had the opportunity to work with several aid agencies, including Caritas. For Caritas, I travelled 500Km by “tinny”, across open ocean, to the worst affected parts of the Diocese and did a detailed damage assessment and needs analysis of the villages. We (boat boys and myself) were truly blessed by absolutely fine weather for this rigorous three day trip. I was shocked at the devastation and the trauma still afflicting many people. Caritas has funded the only trauma counselling and this has yet to be provided outside the island of Ghizo. My immediate needs list contained 9,000 items! A Caritas chartered ship (the third one so far) is taking these and other supplies to the worst affected remote regions.
Of course, the media has already “forgotton” the people affected by this disaster. There is no doubt that a major relief effort will be required in the Solomons for at least another two years.
Every cent of your donations went directly to assist people- none went on overheads which unfortunately are a necessary fact of life with aid organisations. A more detailed accounting is being provided to the Parish Council and I would be happy to provide the same to anyone who wishes to know.
A school of 102 pupils has been able to re-start months earlier than would have been possible, through the purchase of books, pens, rulers and similar items. I knew that St Vincent de Paul, if there, would have focussed on people. So, I selected two particular families and gave them money to buy bedding, pots, clothing and cutlery. One couple was burned out of their home by militants in Honiara in 2002, escaping with their lives and the clothes they were wearing. They came to Titiana. This time, the water took everything except their lives and clothes- they have no house, no possessions, almost no clothes, no garden and no income. They are aged 69 and 78. They are living under a plastic sheet but INSISTED that we sit down, talk and that they make tea for us! The other family of six lost all their possessions and house except for two saucepans, a couple of items of clothing and the wife's canoe which ended in a tree and was returned by another villager.
I bought four chainsaws. Three are going to two remote Mission Stations to be shared around the nearby affected villages (around 29 villages each of about 200-500 people). They'll be used to cut timber to rebuild houses, kindergartens, clinics and schools. Two are going by yacht and two on the latest Caritas ship.
One of the badly affected villages lost many buildings including their clinic, malaria lab, church and many kitchens. We have provided them with a HF radio similar to the Aleang Radio so that they can be in contact with the Diocese, Gizo Hospital and other organisations. This radio is also being delivered by an Aussie yacht. Transport is at a premium so any method of transportation is good.
Many water supplies were damaged. Tanks collapsed and were wrecked or torn apart. I was able to take some special “Aluminium Epoxy” which has been distributed around villages, Mission Stations and even some to the government water supply people who have almost no resources.
The day I arrived in Honiara, I was picked up by the Archbishop who took me to his house. It was a slow journey because of 1,000 people marching 7Km from the airport to town! They were taking the World Youth Day Cross and Icon which had arrived a few hours earlier. Another 1,000 people joined the marchers at the Cathedral for a few hours of prayer. A few days later, the Cross and Icon arrived in Gizo town and it was a wonderful focus for hundreds of people of different faiths. It stopped the town and almost no-one turned up to welcome the Prime Minister who arrived the same day. Christianity is ALIVE!
Thank you all for your generosity. You HAVE made a difference!"