Mission Aviation Fellowship mobilizes disaster response team

Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), including its division in Guelph, Ont., has mobilized a disaster response team to provide assistance following a devastating earthquake in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

On Feb. 26, 2018, the southern highlands of PNG experienced a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that caused many landslides, and damaged roads, structures, power lines and communication systems. Powerful aftershocks continued to make the damage worse.

Following the quake, MAF received many requests for medical evacuation flights. MAF has also been doing fly-overs to check on remote communities, and on Tuesday, Feb. 28, carried PNG disaster officials on an extensive aerial survey.

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On March 1, MAF provided emergency medical evacuation flights for people critically injured in the remote village of Huya. Nagei Waruka had been covered by a landslide that took place shortly after the strong 7.5 earthquake in the early hours of the morning on Feb. 26.

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 that same landslide. She is also pregnant and in critical condition.

The men in the village were determined to get her help, 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 two hours under good conditions but this trip would take much longer due to the upheaval after the earthquake, and having to carry Waruka precariously on the stretcher.

MAF also assisted Aube Kumaruma and her three-year-old child, Waruka. They were frightened by the earthquake so afterwards, Aube decided to walk to a village nearby. As they were walking, a dry branch fell from a tree on top of them.

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. Aube is unable to talk at this time and has to be assisted when moving.

The MAF 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.

Onboard these flights with Rumginae/Kiunga based MAF Caravan pilot Steven Eatwell was Nawi Mabo, MAF’s ground ops training coordinator.

He recounted the experience: “Today, I had the chance to see first-hand the devastation caused by the recent earthquake 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 …. 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 … 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 [aftershocks] happening between 20 to 30 minute intervals [in the days following] that adds to their fear.

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“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.”

Mabo went on to say: “The appreciation to MAF for being there at this critical time of need was overwhelming, especially at Huya where we dropped 240 kilograms of food supplies … 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.”

While telephones are not working in many places, MAF’s associate ministry, CRMF’s radio network is still up and running and people can use it to call for emergency assistance so that MAF flights can respond. The team is also passing along information about problems such as damaged air strips, road closures, and damage to clinics, schools and other important buildings.

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