Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster
Earthquake and Tsunami hit Gizo and other islands
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.
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.
(c) Report 6th April 2007 Penelope Kerr.