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Solomon Islands eye witnesses tell the sad story

Historic Goldie College was badly affected by the tsunami

Mission co-workers from the Methodist Church of Great Britain and Ireland Richard and Kathryn Jackson had been visiting schools in and around Sasamuqa on the south coast of Choiseul Island when the earthquake and tsunami hit and were able to give Uniting Church Overseas Aid Project Officer Jeff Kite an eye witness account of the devastation caused by the major earthquake and tsunamis which hit the western end of the Solomon Islands

Mr Jackson said the first thing that happened was a small wave which came over the road along the coast at Sasamuqa.

“This was followed by four or five waves of about 1½ to 2 metres in height that hit the beach,” he said.

“All the buildings which were part of the hospital complex on the sea side of the road were washed away. This included the administration block, the pharmacy, main laboratory, malaria testing facility and dental clinic.

“The waves washed through the main hospital block which is a little further from the sea but fortunately it did not suffer major damage as most of the force of the waves had been taken by the buildings near the beach.

“All of the medicines from the pharmacy have been damaged and those that could be found were later spread out on the road to try to dry them out for possible use”

Mr Jackson confirmed that two elderly men had died as a result of the tsunami and many others were injured.

“One man was trying to grab his daughter as the waves came through and suffered broken ribs as a result of being smashed against a coconut tree when one of the waves hit.

“The primary school, kindergarten and church hall were also hit hard by the waves and have been mostly demolished. The large old house where the minister lived and where we were staying has lost one whole wing of the building and the rest of the house is in danger of falling down.

“Fortunately, the community high school, which is located further back from the beach, did not suffer any significant damage.”

“All bridges over the local creeks have been washed away and one of the main water supplies to the mission station area is not functioning. Septic tanks are overflowing”

Approximately 300 bush material and “permanent” houses have been lost in the area. Fortunately the main church itself has not suffered any damage as it is located on a hill at the back of the mission station.

Most people including hospital staff and patients are still camping in the hills behind the station because of the fear of follow-up earthquakes and tsunamis.

Mr Jackson also said that no aid is getting through to areas like Sasamuqa because of their isolation compared to places like Gizo which is the provincial capital for Western Province.

“A RAMSI patrol boat did visit Sasamunqa and took lots of notes and photographs as part of their assessment, but unfortunately did not have any emergency supplies,” he said.

“There is an urgent need for food, shelter and medicines and also for drinking water, as most of the rainwater tanks have been damaged.

“The people at Sasamunqa have been wonderful and very generous. Even though they were all suffering themselves in one way or another, they were providing two meals a day for my wife and me.”

Mr Jackson is the principal at the United Church Community High School at Munda while his wife Kathryn works at the outpatient department at Helena Goldie Hospital.

With the assistance of the British High Commission in Honiara, they were flown out of Taro, the provincial capital for Choiseul Province, in a RAMSI aircraft.

The General Secretary of the United Church in Solomon Islands, Mr Atterley Tubepuda, reported that emergency relief was still not reaching the areas badly affected by the earthquake and tsunami

“In my travels and from other reports, it seems that no emergency relief supplies have reached our people yet.

“About 80% of the people affected by the earthquake and tsunami are United Church members. As I look through the list of those who are confirmed dead, I recognize many names of United Church people,” Mr Tubepuda said.

“We want to work closely with the Government and disaster relief agencies to make sure that the emergency supplies are getting through to our people who most need them. It should be understood that we have a very good network throughout the local communities in this region at the grassroots level.”

Mr Tapuria reported that all the residences and other buildings close to the main United Church in Gizo including the church hall, were washed away or badly damaged.

“But the Church itself is mostly undamaged as the buildings around it seemed to take the full force of the waves.”

The United Church village of Tapurai on nearby Simbo Island, where Bishop Zappo was killed and his wife was seriously injured, was completely wiped out.

Mr Tubepuda reported that 10 people died in that village alone and it is very unlikely that the village will ever be re-established in its vulnerable location.

Mr Tubepuda said the southern coastline of Choiseul Island, which is one of the most isolated areas, also needs to be seen as a priority area for emergency relief supplies.

“The south coast of Choiseul Island would have received the full force of the earthquake and tsunami because it is close to the epicentre of the quake and is very exposed to the open sea.”

Moderator of the United Church in Solomon Islands Rev David Havea has given thanks for those who have been praying for the people in Solomon Islands.

“The whole United Church are mourning for the lost of one of our great leader Late Bishop Rawlingson Zappo,” Mr Havea said.

Mr Havea reported that the Bishop’s wife Marama Zanice Zappo is recovering in the Federal Hospital at Honiara.

“There are many of our people have died in Titiana, New Manda and Simbo. Some are still missing at the moment.

Mr Havea asked for prayer for the students and staff of Goldie College which was badly affected with many of the houses destroyed and the dormitories rendered unusable.

“The school won’t start until all these problems are fixed.”

Mr Kite who has extensive experience in both the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea flew to Honiara on Tuesday to visit the United Church in the Solomon Islands, and assist them in evaluating the needs of their communities. This evaluation will help determine where relief is most urgently needed.

He will also develop a plan that will form the basis of Uniting Church Overseas Aid’s (UCOA) support as the rebuilding phase begins.

“This will include the most effective ways for support to be sent so that it is used to assist those most in need,” UCOA said.

Donations can be made by phone toll free 1800 998 122. Please make cheques payable to: Uniting Church Overseas Aid – Solomon Islands Appeal and send cheques to: Uniting Church Overseas Aid, PO Box A2266, Sydney South NSW 1235.  Gifts are tax deductible.

Photo : Historic Goldie College was badly affected by the tsunami