A Minute With Mike - Tsunami brings devastation

This article submitted by Lynne Jacobson on 7/21/98.

Publisher's Note: Michael Jacobson, who was a reporter for the Paynesville Press before joining the Peace Corps in 1996, currently lives in Papua New Guinea (PNG). His site is at Lumi High School in the Sandaun (West Sepik) province where tsunamis recently hit the coastal area.

Lumi, however, is in the Torricelli Mountains, approximately 45 kilometers inland from Aitape and at about 1500 meters above sea level.

It is believed Michael was at his site when the tidal wave hit, but lack of communication facilities makes it impossible to know for sure.

The following are excerpts from the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald, the Los Angeles Times, and The Nationaland Post Courier papers in Papua New Guinea. All information was obtained off the Internet.

A magnitude 7 earthquake occurred 10 to 12 miles offshore from the city of Aitape on the north coast of Papua New Guinea Friday night. The quake triggered tsunamis (seismic sea waves) that struck the coast of PNG wiping out four villages - Sissano, Warapu, Arop and Malol. The three waves swept in shortly after 7 p.m. (when it would be dark) with the largest wave estimated at 20 to 30 feet high. They struck a stretch of beach 20-miles long.

This region of PNG was known for its beaches fringed with palm trees, dense rain forests and many coastal villages. Houses along the coast would have been built of jungle material.

Estimates of the number of people living along this beach range from 6,000 to 10,000. The death toll could easily reach 1,500 dead with many thousands more injured

Father Austen Crapp, the administrator of the Catholic Diocese of Aitape, said "the most saddening thing is that 70 percent of the survivors have been adults - most of the children are dead. What chance would a two-year-old or three-year-old child have, it wipes out everything, destroys everything, bounces people off trees, off obstacles, bowls them into the lagoon, before it turns, rushing back out to seaÖ"

Peter Akoti, a survivor, described the experience in the Sydney Morning Herald. He recalled Friday night as the evening of the "chopper sound."

"When we heard it people ran out and stared at the sea. They thought it was a big wind and they asked, ĎWhat is happening.' They started to run, but it was too late. They were running in fear, but the waves caught them up. They fell down or they were belted into the building before they collapsed. Some of them clung to trees. It was black dark and I survived by clinging to a big piece of timber in the lagoon. How long did it last? No one was timing it."

For now, keep PNG and Mike in your prayers.

View a map of the stricken area.

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