A touching recount of MAF’s earthquake response

MAF is currently involved in a coordinated effort with other groups to provide earthquake relief and medical evacuations.

On Wednesday, 28 February, MAF performed a joint-effort medevac for a woman outside Huya Airstrip in a village called Fau.

MAF received the report and Sharlene Coker, who is not only MAF PNG’s operations assistant but is also trained as MAF international global disaster response administrator and operations specialist, worked with Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) to get coordinates for this village in the hope that one of their translators was familiar with this particular village.

“People on the ground at Huya could not tell us exactly where Fau was,” stated Coker. “One would say north and the other south.

“Thankfully, a SIL translator was able to determine the coordinates. Working with Hevilift, their pilot reported back to us that the coordinates were spot on and that the village confirmed it was the correct place.

“The people of the village went and looked for the woman to bring her to the pickup point as the helicopter departed for another flight and came back within the hour. Unfortunately they were not able to locate her and the helicopter had to depart as they were low on fuel.

“The costs for this operation were paid for by the PNG Disaster Response,” said Coker.

At the end of the day, MAF was again notified about a medevac need at Huya. Due to the lateness of the day, the plane was dispatched the next morning.

Nagei Waruka still needed help. She had been covered by the landslide that took place shortly after the strong 7.5 magnitude earthquake in the early hours of Monday morning.

Fortunately she survived but her legs, back and arms were severely injured.

She was not able to move without assistance. All of her family members perished in the landslide. She is also pregnant and in critical condition.

“This is the same woman the helicopter tried to assist the day before but they were not able to locate her once the helicopter arrived in the village,” MAF reported.

“The men in the village were determined to get her help due to her critical condition, so they built a stretcher and carried her across the river and hiked up to the airstrip where they knew MAF would be able to come pick her up. This hike normally takes about 2 hours under good condition but they arrived late that afternoon.

“Unfortunately they had not received word, as we had hoped they would, that the helicopter was going the day before and the group of men that carried her had left before the helicopter arrived. They were already too far away to be called back at that point.”

Another patient from Huya that the MAF was also able to assist was Aube Kumaruma and her 3-year-old child Waruka. They were frightened by the earthquake so the mother decided to walk to a village nearby.

“As they were walking, a dry branch fell from a tree on top of them. The mother, Aube, sustained a blow to the head with multiple lacerations, and the child’s right eye was injured by falling objects and was very swollen.

“The mother was unable to talk at that time and had to be assisted when moving.”

The Caravan then continued to Bosavi to pick up a young man named Bison. He sustained injuries when his house collapsed with him inside on Tuesday night. He survived but his chest and stomach were injured and swollen.

Arriving at these airstrips, our Rumginae/Kiunga based Caravan pilot Steven Eatwell became a huge blessing and encouragement to the earthquake-stricken people at Huya and Bosavi. On board with Steven was Nawi Mabo, our ground ops training coordinator.

“Today, I had the chance to see first-hand the devastation caused by the recent earthquake,” reported Mabo, “while returning to Hagen from Kiunga and stopping at Huya and Bosavi to pick up people who were injured from the earthquake. Among them was a woman who was the sole survivor of a group of about 13 people that were buried by a landslide while trying to get to Komo to sell goods at the market.

“Another woman whom we also picked up was injured from falling rocks and branches caused by an aftershock a day after the major earthquake. She had wounds on her head and other parts of the body.

“Her little boy was also picked up. He had one eye injured as a result of being hit by debris falling from the hill side.

“There were a number of people who sustained injuries from running into objects while attempting to exit houses and huts in the dark during the major tremor. The health worker at Bosavi said there were no medicines to treat people and expressed sadness of doing nothing much during this critical time.”

When talking to the people, many stated that very few people have left the villages and gone to their gardens out of fear of getting injured or killed should another tremor strike again.

“With tremors happening between 20 – 30 minutes intervals up till now, that adds to their fear,” reported MAF.

“Food gardens, especially on ridges, were reportedly destroyed and this was confirmed from the aerial survey. Rivers and creeks turned muddy and were blocked with fallen trees and rocks, causing water to build upstream then burst open and send a flood of fast travelling debris downstream wiping away food gardens.

“From the air, most ridges around Huya had evidence of landslides. There surely is much more damage than we would guess. A more comprehensive assessment of the affected area is needed!”

Mabo, MAF ground ops training coordinator, said: “The appreciation to MAF for be there at this critical time of need was overwhelming, especially at Huya where we dropped 240 kilograms of food supplies courtesy of Sally Lloyd, who grew up as a missionary kid in the area.

“Some people shed tears, I joined them! I have worked 12 years with MAF but have not seen this level of gratitude by people who express thankfulness when help comes at their greatest hour of need.

“As we prepared to leave, Steve Eatwell asked me to pray with the people. I did, encouraging them we (MAF) we will splash the stories and pictures of the devastation the earthquake caused and work to get help coming their way.

“We encouraged them that people everywhere were praying for them and other areas affected by the earthquake.

“The community leader, on behalf of his people, thanked MAF for being there all this time, more so at this time when the need for help is even greater.”

MAF pilot, Steven Eatwell, continues: “In the morning, before we left Kiunga, we were both phoning different people and contacting people at Huya to assess the airstrip condition as a previous survey flight thought there could be possible cracks on the airstrip.

“I did a few inspection runs across and down the strip and we decided it was safe to land as the cracks we noticed were on the sides, way off centreline, which confirmed reports from out MAF agent at Huya.

“As Nawi has said, the people were so grateful for the plane to have come, not only for the patients and the unexpected food supplies but I felt that they also wanted to share their sorrow and their stories with anyone who could possibly help them.

“The women sitting close by to the boxes of food could not keep back and after a short while, crawled up the bank and hugged the boxes.

“It was great to be able to be there and not rush but listen to the people and to pray with them. I felt that the few boxes we took were received gratefully but were not much compared to the many people there.”

After the Caravan arrived at Mt Hagen shortly before lunchtime, the Hagen base staff all assisted helping the patients out of the aircraft to wait at the base for the ambulance to arrive.

“We gave the patients medevac bags,” said Eatwell. “We just had enough to bless the women. Martha Agena, one of our base staff, instantly clothed the woman on the stretcher with a shirt to cover her body. Martha is a real blessing when it comes to care for the medevaced people, talking gently to them and explaining what’s going on around them and just encouraging them.

“As we were all waiting for the ambulance, many of us gathered around the trolley with the severely injured woman, listening to the woman who was sent by the village as a caretaker, because she could speak Tok Pisin as she was originally from Goroka and now is married to Fau village.

“She was briefly telling the heart breaking story about Nagei’s experience and the impact of the earthquake on the people’s life in these remote places. We were very touched and shaken and joined together in prayer for these traumatised people and their communities.

“As the ambulance wasn’t able to carry all patients, we took the MAF bus.

“Nobi Bino, who works for the maintenance department, joined the ambulance and Martha and Nawi came with me in the bus. We had the two men from Bosavi on board and the woman with the baby, who was the wife to the injured man.

“The emergency staff at Mt Hagen Hospital was very helpful and immediately took care of Nagei, the severely injured woman.

“The hospital is fairly crowded and on its limits to take patients for in-house treatment and according to the emergency staff, they might discharge some of the people rather sooner than later. This is challenging, as these people don’t have wantoks they could ask for help and a place to stay.

“I got them all a health booklet and then we went to get some fresh fruit at the market as well as a cup, plate and spoon for them all and each a blanket.

“From what I understood at the hospital, the patients will be referred to different wards after they’ve been seen by the emergency staff.

“This is another challenge to face for them as some don’t speak Tok Pisin or are so traumatised they don’t speak at all.”

MAF pilot Eatwell has also visited other airstrips like Suabi, Yehebi, Fuma and others.

“People have told me about dead fish and one crocodile floating down stream. I saw this for myself at Yehebi and the people informed me that there was a film on the river similar to how oil sits on water as well as a smell.

“They are not sure if there are still fish in the river as it is too dirty, with debris and mud, to know.

“Please pray for the people in PNG who got hit by the earthquake and now have to deal with further challenges such as lack of gardens and food and clean water.”

(Aube sustained a blow to the head with multiple lacerations while her child’s right eye was injured by falling objects and was very swollen – Pictures by MAF)

Press release