Families homeless after widespread flooding

The number of homeless families keeps increasing following continuous rainfall in East New Britain Province.

Newly appointed Caritas coordinator of the Archdiocese of Rabaul, Fr. Gabriel Pabet, had the chance to visit some of 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 Malagunan No 3 village comprises of five zones, of which zones 1 and 2 consist of seven small Christian communities and are the ones heavily affected, noting 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, Fr. Francis Paska, is in control of the situation, as he is working closely with Rabaul District personnel under the leadership of the District Administrator, Marakan Uvano.

Fr Paska said they have started to bring in rations and basic kitchenware for the affected families.

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

He said 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 and down Burma ridge, it had been directed all this time towards Rapolo village so it also catches water from other gulley that also runs down along the ridges, before eventually going into the sea.

He claims that the reason for the devastating flood was the buildup of water from previous floods up further at the Burma Ridge due to landslides that blocked the gulley and turned it into a dam.

On Monday, at about 3.30am when the downpour began, this natural dam burst its banks as it overflowed, and because of its huge water content and amount of debris, it flowed straight down and followed the old 1994 mudflow route. However, this time, it was 100 meters wide, wreaking havoc as it went.

Despite the situation, Romi 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 had to be hospitalized.

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

Romi also said many of the affected families had semi-permanent homes as they were gradually settling back from the Gelegele resettlement area, where they had resettled 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.

“God is good as there were no casualties 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.”

Fr Paska acknowledged his own church and community leaders for welcoming, organising and controlling the affected families. He 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 rains continue.

  • (Written by Joseph Dunlee, Archdiocese of Rabaul)
Press release