United Efforts to get Relief Supplies flown out
Activity has been high at MAF’s Headquarters in Mount Hagen, following the 7.6 earthquake of 26 February. MAF Disaster Response personnel are programming flights while base staff are loading aircraft and dispatching them with the much-needed relief goods. The supplies are being delivered to the earthquake-stricken communities in Hela, Southern Highlands and Western Provinces. Many of these supplies have been provided by business groups and communities from the Western Highlands and Jiwaka provinces. Disaster response efforts are being coordinated in partnership with the Australian Defence Force, Papua New Guinea Disaster Response and other airline operators, missions, and NGOs.
As an example of some of the local community support, the Mt Hagen-based Tininga business group donated 50 bales of 20kg rice, 100 cartons of bottled drinking water and 10 tarpaulins. Other Mount Hagen business owners contributed 5 ‘relief kits’ which were delivered to Walagu, two to Bosavi and two to Muluma.
Caravan pilots Luke Newell and Mathias Glass took a full Caravan load of these donated supplies out to Bosavi and Mogulu. The MAF team continues to make sure that the donated supplies are being delivered to the communities most impacted.
Below is Mathias Glass’ personal account of the flight:
A Pilot’s Account of a Relief Flight to Muluma and Bosavi
“It was in the afternoon when we took off with a fully loaded Cessna Caravan (C208). The flight was loaded with plastic bottles of drinking water, several bags of rice, tinned meat and fish, four rain collection units and four bush toilets. The supplies were desperately needed because the earthquake had destroyed gardens, contaminated rivers normally used for fresh drinking water and landslides had washed away the original bush toilets.
We departed Mt Hagen in good weather and visibility. We passed PNG’s second highest mountain, Mt. Giluwe, and then the village of Mendi on the northern side. We then flew as directly as possible to our first destination, Muluma. The usual afternoon clouds were already forming on the ridges of the southern Highlands, making navigation difficult. The radio was constantly chattering with the voices of pilots from several relief aircraft and helicopters flying in and out of Moro. Moro is an airfield being used as a hub for larger aircraft bringing in supplies. Smaller aircraft and helicopters then depart taking the supplies out to the earthquake-shaken villages.
Because of time constraints, we were not able to survey a lake which was forming in the Hegigio River valley as a result of being blocked by a landslide. The biggest fear is that the dam created by dirt, rocks and logs will eventually give way, causing a big flood which will wash away everything close to the river banks. We needed to find a village that was reported as being close to the river and in possible danger of such a flood. I spotted a very small village close to the river with two major landslides that could possibly mean a loss of houses and lives. I made a mental note of its position. On our way back to Hagen, we would fly at low level to get the coordinates of that village and then set up a helicopter rescue mission.
Landing at Muluma was challenging because the afternoon westerly winds had picked up dramatically, causing turbulence and wind shear on the short final approach. The people in Muluma greeted us with an obvious sense of thankfulness. While Mandy Glass, MAF PNG’s Communications Officer, was interviewing the village people, Luke and I unloaded the first half of the relief supplies.
I realised that the villagers would need training in order to set up the rain collection units and bush toilets. While the system is simple, it does require some work and knowledge. Using the Melanesian way of explaining important things at least three times, I made sure that the people standing close and watching understood how the setup works. The rain collection unit consists of a small round tank with a tarpaulin attached to its lid. The tarpaulin is held up by wooden sticks at the four corners and catches the rain. A strainer in the middle of the tarpaulin releases the water into the tank. A tap at the bottom of the tank is used to fill buckets or other containers.
The bush toilets are made out of a steel drum with no ends. A hole is dug and a steel drum is placed vertically in the hole. A toilet seat is then attached to the top of the drum. Walls for privacy and a roof are then fabricated out of banana leaves and bush materials. After just an 11 minute flight from Muluma we arrived overhead of Bosavi. Because of the strong crosswinds we were not sure if a landing could be attempted. We started an approach to check the lower winds and determined that it was safe to land.
The people in Bosavi shared similar stories to the people in Muluma. They were afraid that the old extinguished volcano, Mt Bosavi, would explode and so they wanted to flee to the north, right into the unstable area of the previous major earthquake. We urged them to stay where they were. We unloaded the food, water, rain collection units and bush toilets, providing another lesson in how to set things up.
Time was running out and we needed to fly back to Mt Hagen before the afternoon thunderstorms developed, making a flight under Visual Flight Rules very challenging. We took off from Bosavi and attempted to find the village close to the Hegigio river, which we had seen on the way to Muluma. This time we flew low level and made a low pass over the village. We could see several people waving at us and it looked as if they had prepared a helicopter landing site. There was no clearing large enough for an airstrip so we circled again while Mandy took as many pictures as possible for later investigation. The village had experienced two major landslides close to the village houses. It was impossible to tell if houses had been knocked down by the landslides.
We quickly determined the village’s coordinates and departed for Mt Hagen. Flying through the area while several relief helicopters were flying low level was quite demanding. Huge cloud build-ups made navigation challenging and the rain forced us to turn south of the ranges as we returned to Hagen.”
I wished to do more
On 7 March, one of our Twin Otters, crewed by Michael Duncalfe and Jason Marsh, took relief supplies from Mt Hagen to Huya while also bringing back some people injured in the earthquake. The patients included a mute and deaf man who injured his elbow while running out of his house and a child with a long cut on their head. Also on board was a late term pregnant woman who was being brought out to ensure proper care during the delivery and for new born child.
After the flight to Huya, the Twin Otter did another relief flight to nearby Walagu, a village also located in the earthquake-stricken area.
Please see Michael Duncalfe’s report for more details on the patients the Twin Otter brought back to Mt Hagen:
“The severe aftershock has caused large cracks in the airstrip surface at Huya. These now extend close to the centreline at one point and will affect flights to the community. If they get worse, the airstrip will have to be closed completely, making the community only accessible by helicopter for further relief flights.
A large number of people gathered around the sides of the airstrip as they watched the aircraft unloaded. Despite their difficult situation they watched quietly and patiently, a couple of times breaking into spontaneous applause as the food, water, tarpaulins and other supplies were unloaded.
I wished that it was possible to do more. I did my best to encourage the people and to assure them that they were not forgotten, but at a time like this, action is required, not just words. I promised them that MAF was doing all that it could to ensure that aid would be delivered to them and the nearby affected communities.”
Our Kiunga-based Caravan also is involved in bringing help and hope to these people in need.
Pilot does First Aid
Another flight was completed by the Hagen-based Caravan, piloted by Luke Newell, again departing in the morning hours from Mt Hagen for Muluma and Bosavi. He carried rice and water to the communities around the Bosavi airstrip, and then care packs with soap and hygiene items, pots and plates to Muluma, another village which has become home to around 4,000 people. At the moment, many surrounding communities are leaving their houses and coming to the airstrip to seek relief goods. Everyone is scared because their houses have been falling over during different aftershocks. Even gardens are being shaken up and disturbed.
A few houses were destroyed or shaken up during the 6.7 aftershock that occurred at 00:13 on 7-March. Luke gave his relief items to the MAF agents on the ground; they then distributed them.
“I saw at least two people who were bruised; a man talking to me had a gash on his right cheek. I believe Tony was his name. He said that during the quake he had wanted to run outside but couldn‘t because the floor was shaking heavily and the steps might have fallen down. He fell over while staggering out and must have fallen onto a nail or something sharp that tore a gash in his cheek. Tony’s cut looked quite deep so I got the first aid pack out of the plane and gave him an antiseptic cream hoping to at least keep the wound clean.”
There were reports of other injuries, but we have yet to see these people coming to seek help. People from many of the surrounding communities have run to where the ground is flatter, and that is where the airstrip is located. It takes them around 30 minutes walking, coming for their own safety and also hoping to receive some relief goods such as tarpaulins, water or rice. Luke sees their needs: “I feel sorry for them; I just want to help. I see not only the houses that have collapsed and the injuries for which many need assistance, but also the gardens that are breaking up and people’s food sources for tomorrow becoming uncertain.”
Scenes from unloading the plane at Muluma with people showing their injuries (LN)
Relief Supplies in Numbers
Here are some of the numbers from the 7-March relief effort by the C208 and Twin Otter:
- Bosavi: 200kg rice, 304kg water
- Muluma: 200kg rice, 176kg water + supplies
- Walagu: 736kg water, 460kg rice, 3 tarpaulins, supplies
- Huya (DHC6): 551kg water, 255kg tin fish, 480kg rice and some other supplies. On the way back we did a medevac and brought a pregnant lady, a boy with a head injury and a young man with a twisted elbow.
We are not the only ones flying aid. Seventh-Day Adventist Aviation (SDA) delivered a total of more than 1,800 kg of relief, consisting of rice, bottled drinking water, tin fish, tarpaulins and other supplies to Dodomona. SDA’s Chief Pilot, Jeff Downs, reported that at the village of Dodomona, two community houses which had been housing upwards of 300 displaced people, collapsed during Wednesday’s early morning 6.7 magnitude aftershock. Praise the Lord – nobody was injured.
SDA also delivered 1,000kg of relief supplies at Fuma, another 840kg at Huya and 200kg at Walagu.
Between SDA and MAF a total of 8,400kg of relief supplies have been delivered to 6 airstrips.
We want to say a big THANK YOU to the Mt Hagen businesses for their donations of supplies to those who have been suffering from the earthquakes. Without these donations the relief flights would not have been possible.
Donations from Mt. Hagen businesses that have been delivered to-date include:
- 5 kits weighing 190kg each containing: tinned fish/pork, rice, water, blankets, a tarp, buckets with lids, water containers, bush toilet set, water tank and collection tarp.
- 2,000kg rice
- 1,826kg drinking water
- 11 Canvas Tarps
- And many other supplies
A very special Thank You to Lisa Fickel, owner of the Sweet Spot, for organising the business houses and coordinating the donations.
Missing People Found Alive
On 8-March, we received a report from Anton Lutz. He is an Enga-based Lutheran missionary who was flown by helicopter into Dodomona on Tuesday morning in order to monitor the situation on the ground. He is still with the people during this time of hardship.
Be encouraged by his report from Dodomona. There is hope amidst all the devastation!
“Most of the people from the fourteen villages surrounding Dodomona had arrived but there was one group which had not. Gulubia was missing almost entirely. Eight people were believed to be dead. Eight others were believed to be across the tortured rivers, unable to get back to our side, and nearly forty were… missing entirely. On Wednesday, near noon, they arrived. They had been moving through the crumbling mountains since Sunday morning, trying to get to the refuge at Dodomona.
“We should have died. The ground was moving under us, the trees were shaking above us. The rivers are thick. The fish are dead. Nothing is safe. God brought us through.”
I look at the twelve year old boy standing near his father, holding his father’s axe that is still too big for him to swing. He’s listening as his father relates their journey through night and day.
They’re at the camp now. And later that afternoon the eight missing were found. And we found the eight who were thought to be dead alive on a distant ledge. And though they are not reunited yet, still, it’s a good day for Gulubia.”
And the story continues – on the morning of 8-March, our Kiunga based Caravan, piloted by Steven Eatwell, was on its way once again to the village of Bosavi, where we had received word of another young boy in need of a medical evacuation.
Story Mandy Glass. Photos Nawi Mabo (NM), Luke Newell (LN), Anton Lutz (AL), Michael Duncalfe (MD), Luke Newell (LN), Mandy Glass (MG)