The islands of Temotu Province experienced a week-long of earthquakes before Wednesday 06th February 2013. These earthquakes were measured at 4 to 7 magnitudes and were located around 60 to 70 kilometres southwest of Lata. Fears have been building up.
And talks of possible bigger earthquakes which might cause tsunami have become topics of discussions around the islands. Two further earthquakes forewarned the communities before midday. At 12 minutes after midday on 06th February the major strike of 8. 0 magnitude earthquake located 76 kilometres southwest of Lata hardly strike the islands of Temotu. Few minutes after the earthquake while people were still shaking in fear; the worst came, what people have been discussing is happening. People along the coast were experiencing unusual low tide which was followed by an accelerating sea level rise. From the Diocese of Temotu office building in Lata, we could hear strange whistle-like noises coming from the west end of the Lata airstrip. As we looked, there was a roll of wave about eight metres high pushing through the bushes into Area four (below Lata town) of Lata.
In just a blinking of an eye, so to speak, homes, food gardens, fruit trees were destroyed and instantly nine lives were tragically lost. Going through the villages from Luova to Nea in the west end of Santa Cruz was like going through rumbles of chaos. These villages were completely destroyed. Only the remains of the destroyed houses and sea debris were left. The villages’ scenes are heart-breaking to see and thus, cannot stop one from sympathising with those who have been left homeless. Signs of deep traumatic experiences instantly prevailed. People only had the clothes on them while escaping. The next day people returned to the scenes to search for clothes, eating utensils and other valuables they could find. People spent nights in open spaces up in the hills. Only children were accommodated in makeshift huts in the first few nights. Unfortunately, the two infants died of pneumonia out in the cold nights. This brings the total number of victims to eleven.
The fear could not go away easily because there were still aftermath earthquakes, ranging from 4 to 7. 5 magnitudes allocated around the same region. But as the earthquakes continue, the centre moved towards Santa Cruz Island. By the feeling, these aftermath earthquakes felt stronger than the 8. 0 magnitude which caused the tsunami, but that was because of the location. Though there was no tsunami following the aftermath earthquakes, they were strong enough to destroy houses and food gardens. Even now we are still experiencing slight earthquakes, fearing some people to continue to live in bush camps. In the camps, people receive immediate relief supplies of basic needs from World Vision, Red Cross and National Disaster office in Lata. These Non-Government Organizations are continuing to serve the affected people with supplies of food, water, and tools for rebuilding their homes and replanting gardens.
In response to the catastrophic effects of the earthquake and tsunami, the Diocese of Temotu, through the initiative of the Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Rev. George Takeli formed a Disaster Committee on 08th February. The Committee is headed by Fr. Patteson Palusi as the Chairman and five other members. The members are Fr. Patteson Palapu (member), Fr. Philip Mali (member), Mrs. Jocelyn W Daiwo (Treasurer), Mr. Norman Bade (member), and Fr. Leonard Dawea (Secretary). The Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Rev. George Takeli is the overseer of the all DOT Disaster Operations. Imagine that this committee was step in the midst of great fear and uncertainty. It was set up to provide a point of contact for Anglican members who were affected, carry out assessment on damages, link the Diocese of Temotu with the ACOM Disaster Committee and coordinate the distribution of relief supplies from Anglican Church of Melanesia headquarters in Honiara. The committee appointed taskforce workers mainly Diocesan staff and remembers of the Melanesian Brotherhood to carry out assessment work around Santa Cruz Island. The other two regions, Pele and Vattu were assessed through two way radio and phone calls from the Senior Priests and community leaders.
On 15th February, three teams of taskforce workers were deployed to carry out assessment work. The first team led by the Senior Priest of Nendir region, Fr. Philip Mali went to Nangu/Noi and Lagoon districts. The Vicar General, Fr. Patteson Palusi led the second group to Tinakula district. Chaplain to special ministries, Fr. Patteson Nibeo led the third team to Gikato and Bekapoa districts.
The Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Rev. George Takeli and his team visited the worst affected communities of Nela, Venga, Nemba, Luova, and Nea. In fact the Bishop’s team was the first people to land at Nemba village by truck (hilux). They made their way through by clearing the road with axes and bush knives. As previously mentioned all the people have abandoned the village sites, therefore, the Bishop and his team have to walk up the hills to meet people in their camps.
Surprisingly, the people had to carry the elderly up the hills, some as high as two hundred mitres. It was later reported by the taskforce workers that throughout Santa Cruz people escaped to the hills. The teams went out to assess physical damages, but also to assure people of the presence of the Church with them in difficult and disastrous times. Even though the teams were deployed empty-handed, it was acknowledged by the people as a great healing, an assurance of hope and symbolic presence of Christ with them. People are assured of Christ’s presence with them just as he was present in the boat with his disciples when they were engulfed by rough seas and strong wind in Lake Galilee.
The committee members and the taskforce workers are now working hard to compile the final lists of the affected people before the arrival of relief supplies from ACOM/PHQ sometimes this week (first week of March). MV Southern Cross will be used for distribution of supplies from Nangu down along the north coast of Santa Cruz. In Tinakula district, distribution will be done by Out Board Motor. Distributions in Tape, Nea/Noipe and Mendana districts will be carried out by trucks. Other NGOs in Lata have offered support to Diocese of Temotu Disaster Committee with the distribution.
The Diocese of Temotu also took the initiative to organise a thanksgiving and requiem mass throughout the Diocese on Sunday 03rd March 2013. In Nendir region, priests were allocated to different Churches. The Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Rev. George Taklei celebrated and preached at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Lata. He was assisted by the Rector, Fr. Timothy Bila. The service was attended by the Premier Hon. Fr. Brwon Beu, the Provincial Secretary, Mr. Solomon Palusi, Provincial Assembly Members, other Provincial leaders, representatives of NGOs serving in Temotu and some of the relatives of the victims of the tsunami.
Please continue to pray for the people of Temotu as they gradually begin to restart their lives and make positive reflections following the traumatic devastations of Wednesday 06th February 2013.