PNG: Wewak schools closed

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

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (September 11, 2002 -- Post-Courier)---All schools in Wewak were ordered closed yesterday following the earthquake that rocked the area early on Monday morning.

East Sepik provincial police commander chief superintendent Leo Kabilo said yesterday: "All the schools in Wewak have been closed and all the children sent home following the earthquake that destroyed much of the infrastructure in and around town, including the town water supply."

At least four people were killed in the tremor, which measured 7.5 on the Richter scale.

At Dagua, the Catholic Health Center suffered some damage to parts of its clinic building.

"Boram Hospital is also on the verge of being closed due to a water shortage," Supt. Kabilo said.

He said police are keeping a close watch on property to prevent theft.

East Sepik Bishop Tony Burgess told the Post-Courier from Wewak yesterday that an emergency meeting was held last night between the officials from the national disaster and emergency services and the government to assess the extent of the damage.

He confirmed that seven houses were completely destroyed and 24 partially destroyed at Tarawai Island, 31 destroyed and 23 partially at Big Mushu, nine completely and seven partially destroyed at Supabu.

"I am not able to confirm the exact number of houses damaged or destroyed until a proper assessment is carried out by the officials from the national disaster and emergency services,'' Bishop Burgess said.

He said in the Boikin area five houses along the coast were destroyed and three at Karawab village, while further along the coast another 13 houses were also destroyed at Yuo village situated on the mainland.

No reports of damage were received from Dagua Health Center.

The provincial disaster office is still carrying out inspections of the outlying islands and the hinterland to assess what damage these areas suffered.

Reports received so far state that 24 people have been treated at Wewak Hospital. The death toll still remains at four.

In Port Moresby, a scientist at the University of Papua New Guinea says the earthquake and tsunami that struck on Monday didn't cause much damage because it occurred in shallow water.

Dr. Augustine Mungkaje, who comes from Tarawai Island, which was affected by the earthquake, said if the earthquake had occurred in water more than 1 kilometer (6/10ths of a mile) in depth, it would have created big waves like the Aitape tsunami, which could have resulted in many more deaths and destruction.

Dr. Mungkaje said information obtained from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawai'i stated that the strength of the earthquake was 7.4 on the Richter Scale.

He said the earthquake's epicenter was only 575 meters (1,898 feet) offshore of Sowom village on the west coast of Wewak. He said the earthquake occurred at a depth of 471 meters (1,555 feet), and was between the islands of Wallis and Tarawai and the coastal villages of Sowom and Suain on the mainland.

"If the earthquake had occurred in waters deeper than one kilometer, big tsunami waves would have caused devastation to the neighboring islands and coastal villages on the East Sepik mainland,'' Dr. Mungkaje said.

Meanwhile, East Sepiks living in the National Capital District have formed a group to raise funds and collect relief supplies for earthquake victims from the islands and coastal areas of the province.

A meeting of an organizing committee was held last night at Alphonse Krau's residence at Kaubebe St., Boroko.

Organizers yesterday appealed to "anyone from the Wewak islands interested in assisting the committee'' to speak to Mr. Krau on telephone number 323 9763, Ralph Saulep of Saulep Lawyers on 325 9811 and fax 325 9812 to gather more information or volunteer their help for the appeal.