DAILY CATHOLIC WEDNESDAY July 22, 1998 vol. 9, no. 142
NEWS & VIEWS
CATHOLICS OFFER AID TO TIDAL WAVE VICTIMS
AIPATE, Papua New Guinea (CWNews.com) - As the death toll from a devastating series of tidal waves rises to near 3,000, Pacific-area Catholics extended their assistance this week to help survivors and bury the dead.
The tidal waves, up to 30 feet high, hit the northern coast of Papua New Guinea last Friday after an offshore earthquake, erasing whole villages in this mainly Catholic area which had a population between 8,000 and 10,000 before the disaster. With so many dead and the tropical heat accelerating decomposition, workers are burying the bodies where they lay, contrary to the cultural norms of the people. "It will be hard for them to come to terms with the fact they cannot bury the dead," said Father Jim Croucher. "Culturally they need to spend time with the bodies, telling stories, weeping and crying over the bodies. I don't know how they will cope."
Murray Greene, a native New Zealander working as diocesan manager for the Diocese of Aitape, praised a concerted effort of Catholic lay volunteers from Australia, New Zealand, America, Germany, and England working with rescue agencies. "People are in shock and hiding in the mangroves and mountains," he told the New Zealand Catholic newspaper.
Greene added that the town of Aitape and the local church
were protected by a peninsula. "But in villages to the west
there is total devastation. Yesterday we buried 722 people,
out of a population of 6000." He said the mission hospital
in Aitape was full to overflowing with injured, mainly
fractures from falling and broken houses. "Bodies are
decomposing and it is a gruesome task. Identifying them is
becoming difficult and we are concerned about infection,"
said Greene. "We are short of food, water, and tools." Some
people were burying relatives themselves, and others were
lost at sea, so counting the survivors might be the only
means of knowing the total death toll, he said.
Articles provided through Catholic World News Service.
NEWS & VIEWS