Vanuatu Earthquake/Tsunami: Marteli Bay

From WEEKLY NEWS 45/99
In Marteli Bay, Pentecost Island in Vanuatu, what was once a beautiful village of 360 people is today a wasteland after a massive tidal wave struck the area following a 7.1 magnitude earthquake on 27 November. "Everything is gone ... the houses, gardens, livestock and orchard. It will take a long time for the village to recover," says Godwin Ligo, the Vanuatu Red Cross Society's chief executive officer. Although the Marteli Bay village was wiped out, a quirk of fate saved most of the people. Only four people died here and one is still missing. "The people were attending a wedding ceremony in the hills when the tidal wave struck," says Godwin. "They heard the crash of the thunder and returned to see everything gone."

Several tidal waves followed the earthquake, destroying dozens of villages like Marteli Bay along the coast. Some 12 people were killed and dozens injured. Early assessments show extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure. Other islands affected by the disaster include Ambrym, Paama and Epi. Hundreds of people are sheltering in partially damaged schools and churches and early estimates indicate that about 1,000 out of 12,000 people living in the affected islands could be directly affected.

The Vanuatu Red Cross, although hampered by a severe lack of funds, is rushing relief materials from its disaster preparedness stocks to affected areas, in coordination with the national disaster committee, police and government authorities. "There is an urgent need for shelter materials, blankets, clothes, water containers, basic medicine, rice and tinned food such as fish and meat, water purification tablets and jerrycans," says Abbas Gullet, Head of the Federation's regional delegation in Suva, Fiji. The Vanuatu Red Cross is also raising funds through the local media and is asking for clothing, bed sheets, water containers and other essential items.

On 1 December, the International Federation launched a preliminary appeal for 188,000 Swiss francs to assist 1,000 of the worst-affected families on the islands of Pentecost, Ambrym, Paama and Epi. Many villagers are still in shock because of frequent aftershocks that followed Saturday's earthquake. Godwin also said there is a long-term need for the Red Cross to rehabilitate affected villages since orchards, banana plantations and cassava crops have been destroyed.

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