Because our HF radios were strategically located at airstrips in the affected regions, we could quickly find out which airstrips were operational, and which were damaged. The airstrips soon became crowded as people started congregating there.
When the earthquake occurred this channel became very busy. The airwaves were filled with requests for emergency medical flights to carry the injured to hospitals as well as with requests for food, shelter, and clean water. With the guidance of MAF who was leading the initial disaster relief efforts, CRMF logged all radio calls and, at the end of each day, sent a summary report to eventually around 30 different e-mail addresses representing many governments, NGOs, and mission agencies.
Major Rob Mitchell from the Australian Defense Force described the information that they received – a combination of the aerial survey photos from MAF and the communications from CRMF – as ‘gold.’
Mendi (a town in the Southern Highlands) suffered great loss with 600-700 houses, two aid posts, a primary school, and an elementary school covered from landslips. Reports also came in over the radio of a hundred-livestock dead, gardens covered or ruined beyond repair, and water sources turned red. Southern, Western, and Hela provinces were most affected by the earthquake.
-Gipson Wembip Kaket, from Mendi, asks us over the radio. We received many similar calls.
March 7th, 8:45am, Huya calls A899 (CRMF) on the radio and reported that the earthquake had caused landslides that covered 14 people. Twelve people were confirmed dead. They requested three patients to be medevaced. The 1st was badly injured in the landslide; the other 2 patients were a mother and child. While trying to run away because of the earthquake, a branch fell on the mother’s head, broke both her arms and she passed out. The little child was also crushed by the branch and suffered serious damage to his eye. They were in critical condition. CRMF contacted MAF Kiunga and they arranged a flight.
Some of the remote communities began reporting unusual damages to their gardens by pests and other garden issues. We passed on this information to the relevant government and NGO experts and requested that they respond to the communities and provide aid. This work is still ongoing.
The rumor seemed to stop for a month but then came back stronger than ever. Eyewitness accounts of smoke and fire at the top of the volcano started spreading by phone and then by social media till even the government was making evacuation plans for the people around the volcano. CRMF quickly called the leading volcanic experts in PNG, the Rabual Volcanic Observatory, who made it quite clear that the volcano was extinct, it could not be erupting. CRMF put out a plea to any in the mission community who could provide some eyewitness testimony that the mountain was not erupting.
Earthquake and landslips continue. The water is contaminated, muddy, and an odor came out of it that causes people to feel sick – skin infections (diarrhea, cough, headache and vomit). Community and P/School teachers have a shortage of food since 3 weeks ago, people felt weak, dizzy (really need food). They are asking for 20 meter rope to tie up their canoes, 4 tuffa tanks to store clean water (2 for community and 2 for P/school) plus bedding, and soap. There is no Health Worker and no medicine yet, need Medicine. Gardens infected with pests.”
We often pray on the radio with those we are talking with. When we heard from many communities about their garden pests we assured them that we were doing everything we could to get them help and then we prayed for them over our radio channel.
The HF radio also provides a community aspect to communications. As everyone in the radio world can hear what is said. Everyone is hearing their stories and sharing the pain together. This gives people strength and encouragement.
Please continue to lift up in prayer those affected by the earthquake.