Wave of panic

Main Stories, National

A TSUNAMI alert, which was later cancelled, sparked widespread panic in the National Capital District, Lae, Madang and other coastal areas throughout Papua New Guinea yesterday.
The alert from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii yesterday morning came after three undersea earthquakes struck off Vanuatu, starting at 8.03am PNG time.
The tremors, which struck at a shallow depth of 33km and measuring 7.8, 7.7 and 7.3 respectively on the Richter scale, caused mass panic in several countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.
They came just a week after tsunami waves killed 184 people in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.
The alert forecast a tsunami to strike Port Moresby at 11.23am, but was cancelled about 30 minutes beforehand, as the waves generated by the quakes were too small to make any impact.
In the National Capital District, the tsunami alert was sounded by Radio Central, FM100 and other radio stations, and the news spread like wildfire.
Frightened residents scampered to the hills with whatever belongings they could carry.
The downtown CBD area in Port Moresby wore a deserted look, as office buildings were rapidly evacuated and workers fled using every available mode of transport, many on foot.
Similar reports were received from Lae, Madang, Kokopo, Vanimo, Kerema and several villages in coastal Central province.
Students sitting for their Grade 10 national examinations were among the worst affected, having to stop writing their papers as panicked parents rushed to schools to take their children home.
Most schools closed early and allowed students to leave.
Many office workers had to go without their fortnightly pay yesterday as banks closed their doors and workers went home.
Street traders also made a quick exit.
“There was panic on the streets,” one worker, Kila Kila, whose office is located in the Deloitte Tower, said.
“Everybody was running around, running for buses.
“Next door, the bank staff evacuated their building and people were streaming out of other offices,” she said.
“Over the building intercom, management told people to remain calm but to leave the building.
“About five minutes later, they then said over the speakers the warning had been cancelled but everyone had already gone and it didn’t look like anyone was returning to work today,” Ms Kila said.
Many expatriates in Port Moresby flocked to the Royal Papuan Yacht Club and other popular watering holes to discuss the event – over a beverage or two.