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Aftershocks continue to rock the church in the Solomon Islands

Bishop Rollinson Zappo of the Central West Region, United Church in the Solomon Islands killed by the tsunami
Bishop of the Central West Region Rev Rollinson Zappo was one of many killed by the tsunami that hit the Solomon Islands on Monday.

A key leaders of the United Church in Solomon Islands, Bishop Zappo had travelled from his home in Gizo to Simbo Island to induct a Superintendent Minister at the local United Church.

The tsunami swept through the Church just before the induction was to commence killing Bishop Zappo and other church members.

The number of deaths is still unclear and are only part of the tragic consequences for the Western Province of the Solomon Islands which is a partner church of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Bishop Zappo was a popular leader in the church and had visited Queensland just two years ago for a Pacific church leadership conference.

United Church Assembly Human Resource Development Coordinator Rev Milton Talasasa reported that the Moderator Rt Rev David Havea, and Assembly Secretary, Rev Attery Tabepuda attended the funeral for Bishop Zappo at his village Uzamba on Tuesday afternoon.

He also confirmed that four of the villages on the island of Simbo were wiped out by the tsunami.

While the damage in Gizo has been well reported by international media, news from other parts of the Western Province is sketchy but Samuel Ramboanjanahry, a Council for World Mission missionary teaching at the Kokaqolo Community High School has confirmed that he and many other United Church staff have been ‘camping’ on the hill behind the United Church Assembly Office.

Uniting Church Overseas Aid Project Officer Jeff Kite reported that the Helena Goldie Hospital at Munda suffered no significant damage but staff and patients have not returned to the hospital yet because of its vulnerable location with water on three sides.

The patients are currently being housed and cared for at the High School.

Mr Kite said that Uniting Church International Mission (UIM) staff had spoken to Rev Milton Talasasa, the Assembly Human Resource Development Coordinator, who confirmed that at Munda, the sea level around Helena Goldie Hospital and the Assembly Office rose about 1 to 1 ½ metres.

“The situation would have been much worse, but it appears that the large barrier reef near Munda has protected the area from the full impact of the tsunami, however a number of staff houses sustained major damage due to the earthquake itself, Mr Kite said.

Mr Talasasa said the people from Munda are still “living in the bushes”.

“A Hercules just arrived bringing relief supplies. People are still living in panic and are on red alert and quakes are still felt.”

Mr Kite said UIM staff also contacted the Government Station at Taro, a small island on the far northern end of Choiseul Island. “We were able to speak to the Provincial Disaster Coordinator, Mr Roland Lapo.

“The Government buildings and hospital at Taro were unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami except for a significant temporary rise in sea level.

“As a precaution, all non-essential staff and all families have been evacuated to higher areas on nearby Choiseul Island. However the tsunami caused a number of deaths and major damage along the southern coastline of Choiseul Island.

Mr Lapo confirmed that there had been at least five deaths on Choiseul but this number was expected to rise significantly as more reports are received. He also said that at Sasamuqa village and United Church facility there around 200 – 300 houses were smashed by the waves and at least two people have died.

There have been an unconfirmed report that the United Church hospital at Sasamuqa has sustained major damage but the full extent of the damage is still unclear.

Mr Kite said this is an old wooden building close to sea level with about 28 staff and 45 beds “All the hospital medications etc are apparently unusable due to water damage.”

Damage reports have also been received from coastal villages on Rannonga, Vella Lavella, Kolombangara, Rendova and the main New Georgia Island.

Uniting Church in Australia National President Rev Gregor Henderson has written to the Moderator of the United Church in Solomon Islands on behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia to convey sympathy and concern following the earthquake and tsunami disaster.

“We feel very deeply for the people of the Solomons, knowing that the death toll from this tragedy is bound to increase and that many thousands have been left homeless and destitute,” said Mr Henderson.

“Please be assured of our keenness to assist you in ways both spiritual and material. You are our partners in the body of Christ, and we wish to support you at this time through our solidarity, our prayers and our material help.”

Uniting Church Overseas Aid has sent an immediate cash gift to our partner, the United Church in the Solomon Islands for emergency relief activities. Further funds are urgently needed to assist in this crisis and to support the rebuilding of these communities once the emergency has passed.

Uniting Church Overseas Aid has established a special Solomon Islands Emergency Appeal and members of the Uniting Church in Australia and others are encouraged to give generously in this time of great need.

Tax deductible donations can be made by phone (call toll free on 1800 998 122) or by cheque payable to Uniting Church Overseas Aid — Solomon Islands Appeal and addressed to: PO Box A2266, Sydney South NSW 1235.  Gifts are tax deductible.

Regular updates from the Solomon Islands can be found at http://uim.uca.org.au/uim.

Photo : Bishop Rollinson Zappo of the Central West Region, United Church in the Solomon Islands killed by the tsunami