PNG: No water in Wewak quake zone

News and Press Release
Originally published
From Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai'i

By Jack Metta in Wewak

WEWAK, Papua New Guinea (September 11, 2002 -- The National)---Water is a rare commodity in Wewak town following the violent earthquake that rocked the coastal areas of East Sepik province on Monday morning.

An emergency meeting of concerned parties including the Wewak hospital, the Waterboard, police, district administration, churches, the Wewak Chamber of Commerce, CIS, PNG Defense Force and the East Sepik government and administration agreed that repairing the burst water pipe was a matter of urgent priority.

The meeting, attended by the director general of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Henry Mokono, resolved to organize a Defense Force aircraft to fly in the materials needed to repair the pipe at Boram Creek.

Earlier yesterday, provincial police commander Leo Kabilo expressed fears that the shortage of fresh water could lead to law and order problems, referring particularly to frustrated residents taking out their anger on Waterboard workers attempting to repair the damaged pipe.

The situation in Wewak and its surrounding areas, including the islands, was normal yesterday, although aftershocks were still being felt at random intervals throughout the day.

The popular Somare Cup soccer tournament continued at Independence Park for the second day as if nothing had happened in the township.

Meanwhile, in the North Coast, hundreds of Karasau islanders sought refuge on the mainland after a deep rift tore the island in two, allowing in a rush of seawater.

The death toll, according to police, remains at four, with the death of a mother and child in Wewak and one person each on Kairuru and Wallis islands.

According to local reports in Wewak, the mother and child were not just the victims of a natural disaster but also a tragedy of a cultural making as the newborn baby and the mother were required by custom to remain secluded in their house, which toppled during the quake.

Mr. Mokono explained yesterday that the quake was a result of the movement of the Pacific and Australasian plate and was tectonic in nature.

Geophysical experts yesterday spoke of how lucky the coastal region was in that the impact of the tectonic plates was 30 kilometers (18 miles) underground.

"Had it been shallow and had there been no islands around Wewak to act as a buffer, it could have been a massive disaster," said one technician.

"We are talking about an earthquake that measured 7.6 as compared to Aitape's 6 on the Richter scale."

Mr. Mokono is confident that the water situation should return to normal over the next couple of days.

He said the other exercise that the provincial disaster committee will embark on is to replace more that 200 water tanks that burst in Maprik, Boiken, Dreikikir and Suwain on the border of East and West Sepik provinces.

Burst water tanks were a widespread problem, said Mr Mokono, affecting health centers, schools, villages, public servants' houses and police facilities.

After an assessment of the affected areas yesterday, Mr. Mokono estimated that over 2,000 people have been either directly or indirectly affected by the violent quake.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, whose residence in Wewak was seriously shaken by the earthquake resulting in the loss of his personal collection of gifts from various world leaders, called on the NBC to get Radio East Sepik back on air.

Sir Michael was particularly concerned that at a time of disaster such as this, communication was very important.

The radio station could have played a vital role in warning and informing people about the disaster.

Mr. Mokono said yesterday that a report was likely to go before the appropriate government authorities by the end of the week.

He also urged potential donors of relief supplies and assistance to go through the NDMO rather than going through other organizations, as was the case with Aitape.

He paid tribute to Prime Minister Sir Michael, Inter-Government Relations Minister Sir Peter Barter, Governor Authur Somare and the respective district administrations for their initiative in utilizing their personal resources to assess the situation in Wewak and surrounding areas.