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Families homeless after widespread flooding

  • Joseph Dunlee, Archdiocese of Rabaul


East New Britain: The continuous downpour of rain in East New Britain has seen families without homes.


After a heavy downpour in the early hours of Monday, 18th February 2019, there was widespread flooding, landslides causing road blocks, heavy slit wash out on the roads, drains and gulley’s. 


This has seen about 35 homes, 300 men, youths, women and children homeless with schools officially suspended as of Wednesday 20th February until Friday 22nd February 2019 students as heavy rains continue.


Newly appointed Caritas coordinator of the Archdiocese of Rabaul, Fr. Gabriel Pabet had the chance to visit these families who are currently taking refuge at St. Joseph’s Malagunan Parish hall, and also visited the village to make his own assessment.


He said that Malagunan No 3 village comprises of 5 zones, of which zones 1 and 2 consists of seven small Christian communities and are the ones heavily affected and that the number of families affected is due to rise as more people are entering the Parish grounds.


The Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Malagunan Parish Fr. Francis Paska is in control of the situation, as he is working closely with Rabaul District personnel under the leadership of the DA Mr. Marakan Uvano.


Fr Paska said that they have started to bring in rations, and basic kitchen wares for the affected families. 


Mr. Pius Romi, a church leader and victim said that the affected area was the pathway of a mud flow flood during the 1994 volcanic eruptions which had a flow width of only 30 meters.

He said that although it should be the natural outlet of floods from a gulley that starts inland as far as Navunaram, Rakunai, Latlat, Raluan 1 and 2, down Burmah ridge, it had been directed all this time towards Rapolo village so that it also catches water from other gulley’s that also runs down along the ridges, before eventually going into the sea.


He claimed that the reason for the devastating flood was the buildup of water from previous floods up further at the Burmah Ridge due to landslides that blocked the gulley and turned it into a dam which on Monday morning at about 3.30 am as the big downpour began, this natural dam burst its banks as it overflowed, and because of its huge water content and amount of debris, it came straight down and followed the old 1994 mud flow flood route, only that this time, it was a 100 meters wide flood flow, therefore caused all the devastations right down to the sea. 


Despite the situation, he expressed gratitude and thanks to God that no life was lost during their ordeal, despite one or two injured themselves from bad cuts as they tried to save roofing irons and have to be hospitalized. 


He blames local authorities for not monitoring the floodway to be clear at all times as it had been in the past and recommends that this be done on a regular basis to avoid further disasters in the village in the future. 


He also said that many of the affected families had semi-permanent homes as they were gradually settling back from Gelegele settlement where they had been settled after the twin volcanic eruptions in 1994, and therefore, these homes were no match for the force from the floods.


“I nearly lost my life in this disaster as I just came in from Kimbe. I slipped and was carried away by the fast-moving water and was able to save myself by desperately groping the soil and roots on the sides to save myself,’’ says a victim Mrs Anna Mato of mixed East and West New Britain parentage, residing in Kimbe.


God is good as there were no casualty, however, as a mother, this disaster could be a wakeup call to all of us to align ourselves to his will as we begin another year,” she said.


Fr Paska acknowledged his own church and community leaders for welcoming, organizing, and controlling the affected families and encouraged them to strive to live communally, and share equally whatever they receive as he opened the elementary classroom for the mothers and children. 


He thanked the Rabaul District and Caritas Rabaul for their immediate response.

Caritas office of the Archdiocese of Rabaul has invited the Pastoral Board which is a body comprising of different pastoral apostolates for a briefing to determine a collective effort of the Archdiocese under the leadership of Caritas Rabaul, as the heavy rain continues.   

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