Tsunami hit villagers feel neglected

The National, Thursday July 14th, 2016

THIS Sunday, July 17 will be the 18th anniversary of the Aitape tsunami which, according to one source, claimed more than 2200 lives.
The tsunami hit the villages of Warapu, Arop, Sissano and Malolo.  Warapu alone had 1023 casualties.
As the villagers in Aitape, West Sepik prepare to remember their dead, a Warapu villager Donald Moksir is spearheading efforts to get relevant government agencies to visit the tsunami affected communities once more to offer them some assistance and confidence.
The villagers are particularly concerned that their new settlement inland behind the Sissano lagoon is gradually becoming unsuitable for their continued survival.
Gardening land is said to be waterlogged and vegetation including sago palms and forest used for building houses are also affected.
Anther concern is on health.  Moksir reports that a lot of people were dying of asthma-like illnesses and other complications.
Many villagers have migrated away from the village as a result but those who still live there want assistance from especially government agencies.  They want investigations done to determine whether their land and environment are suitable and can sustain future generations.
The village community plans to stage a major tsunami awareness on Nov 16 – World Tsunami Day both in Port Moresby and Aitape during which they hope relevant government agencies would explain the cause of the tsunami to the villagers and especially those born after the disaster. This, Moksir said, is necessary, because even some survivors among them are still not satisfied with the earlier reports on the 199s tsunami.
One such report was by the Geology Department of the University of PNG.
The  report states that PNG-based researchers collected eye-witness accounts; mapped the pattern of destruction and the distribution and character of tsunami sediments; participated in marine investigations; and mapped and sampled underwater rock exposures.
They also provided information to the survivors and later convened a conference of scientists, survivors and managers from which a comprehensive account of the disaster, the response, and the recovery has been developed.
The authors had participated in a nationwide campaign to promote tsunami awareness and preparedness.
On the evening of Friday July 17, 1998, about 20 minutes after a strongly felt local earthquake, a succession of three large waves struck the Aitape coast. Waves 10-15m high destroyed three villages. Confirmed deaths numbered 2200, a further 1000 suffered serious injury, and 10,000 were displaced from their homes.
Subsequent investigations by international and locally-based scientists included two onshore investigations by international teams, four major marine surveys by research ships from the Japan Marine Science and Technology Centre; one marine survey by a United States team; and other onshore investigations by teams from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Investigations by PNG-based scientists included interviews with survivors, mapping the damage, mapping and characterising the tsunami sediments, and first enquiries into the tsunami history and subsidence history of this coast.
Other activities included a programme of public awareness, firstly amongst the survivors, and later nationwide, and the organising of an international conference at which the disaster, the response and the recovery phase were reviewed by scientists, disaster managers, non-government organisation representatives and survivors.
Other research has focussed on the mathematical modelling of the wave and re-interpretation of the earthquake data, aimed at determining the location and nature of the source. Results include the identification of a seismic signal that could have been generated by a submarine slump or landslide at Aitape 13 minutes after the initial earthquake.
The outcome of the investigations is that most scientists believe that the tsunami was caused by a submarine slump or landslide, that presumably was triggered by the shaking of the initial earthquake. The finding has alerted communities around the world to the possibility that catastrophic tsunamis can arise from submarine gravity-driven mass movement, and do not necessarily require fault rupture.
Today, 18 years following the event, even with the scope and depth of reports such as the one quoted above and others like it by other local and international authorities, survivors of the tsunami disaster still have questions.
They hope responsible government authorities would have the time to sit down with them and reassure them.