Posted by: ilanasmith | September 2, 2005

Disastrous Disasters

In July 1998, a tsunami hit some villages on the north coast of Papua New Guinea.  Of the ten thousand people who lived in the Sissano Lagoon area, at least 20% were killed.
Papua New Guinea is not a highly developed nation.  There are no roads linking any two major cities.  The capital, Port Moresby, is consistently ranked one of the most dangerous places on earth.  PNG law gives a new prime minister an amnesty period of twelve months before he can be voted out, to curtail revolving-door governments.
At the time of the Sissano disaster, my parents were running a gold mine in Sandaun Province. The first they heard was a radio call from Brother Jim, a missionary based in Vanimo, a town close to the Sissano area.  He had learned of the disaster and was calling on friends for help.  My step-dad, Paul, took one of the mine’s helicopters and flew to Sissano.
Paul was the first rescuer there.  Over the next few days, he was responsible for transporting injured people to hospitals in Vanimo and Aitape.  The things he saw and the stories he tells about that period are horrifying.
Paul is also very angry about what happened in Sissano.  The PNG Government took days to organize assistance.  Paul and his chopper moved over 400 people before any other help arrived.  The Australian news media arrived before the PNG army.
The recent events in Mississippi and Louisiana remind me of Sissano.  But as terrible as Sissano was, I inherently forgive some lack of emergency infrastructure in a third-world country.  There is no excuse for what is happening in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


  1. onya Tsue:Third world countries are not only ranked by wealth. Papua New Guinea is a a third world country ranked by lack of services. Beats the hell out of me how US of A is ranked as a third world country – concern for her own?, WMD discovery? (better include Australia here).Sori tumas liklik – there is no comparison between PNG’s Sissano tsunami and the people mugged by Hurricane Katrina and the US of A’s National Disaster disaster.Without political administration, a lot of good people in PNG made good, immediate humanitarian decisions, we were not hindered by a bureaucracy or a supposed professionalism.liklik blong mi, I ask that you do not confuse the compassion given to our PNG with the Hurricane Katrina response. We were not professional, we had no resources and we cared.What worries me is that Hurricane Katrina’s bureaucracy are the same dudes running a war! May a god help her soldiers.lapunBy the by – these are my statements and do not represent those of the blogger!!

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