Remembering Aitape’s Tsunami 14 Years On
When the clock strikes 6:49pm PNG time (0849 Universal Time) today, it would have exactly have been exactly 14 years to that moment in time when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck about 30km off the west-coast shoreline of Aitape.
After the first shock of earthquake, there was a draw down, or negative wave, which exposed the sea floor. There were loud sounds at this time, variously described as like a jet plane or a bomb. Many people went down towards the beach to find what the sounds were.
Then the first positive wave arrived. Survivors said that a blast of air strong enough to knock over people had preceded the wave. According to them, the second wave was larger and produced more damage.
The waves uprooted trees, snapped tree trunks and piled debris as far as 500m inland from the coast. Inland from the lagoon, mature mangroves were snapped off 1 to 2m above the water level at distances of 1,300m.
From watermarks and debris left in trees, wave heights have been estimated at an average elevation of 10m along the sand spit separating Sissano Lagoon from the ocean. At several locations, peak heights approached 15m.
Waves rose to a height of 10-15 meters above sea level after it had crossed the shoreline and caused most damage. Maximum wave heights and the greatest damage were recorded along a 14km sector of coast centered on Sissano Lagoon. Several coastal villages were severely destroyed.
More than 2,200 people are estimated to have died and about 10,000 survivors were forced to relocate inland.
As we are in the process of electing our 9th Parliament since Independence in our 2012 National Election, let us reflect on the troubles, trials and successes we have faced together as a nation. We must never forget where we came from, for it shapes us to what we will become.
In memory of Aitape.