Big waves may be a surfer
's dream come true, but the waves produced on July 17, 1998, by a Papua New Guinean earthquake
were many people's worst nightmare. Waves- reportedly 32 feet high at the coast- washed destruction over the northwest coast of Papua New Guinea
(PNG), specifically in the Sissano Lagoon
The PNG tsunami was triggered by an earthquake on the Northwest coast of Papua New Guinea. PNG sits on the northern extremity of the Australian plate at its border with the Caroline plate so earthquakes are common in the area. However, this particular earthquake was unusual. According to the US Geological Survey, it is likely that this earthquake, a 7.0 magnitude, "caused the sea floor to drop vertically and then rebound creating a large 'hump' in the water." This movement of the sea floor has been determined as one of the main reasons the PNG tsunami was so destructive.
The destruction that the PNG tsunami caused was widespread. Villages that were hit by the tsunami were literally flattened. Houses, schools, and medial clinics were destroyed. Some houses were swept as far away as 600 feet inland. Unfortunately, the damage did not stop with leveling buildings. The effects of the tsunami also left the people of the neighboring villages with a sanitation and water contamination problem.
Perhaps the most shocking effect of the tsunami was neither the destruction of the villages not the sanitation problems. The number of causualties caused by the tsunami shocked many. Although most estimates of the causualties were around 3000-4000 people, it was clear that at least 2000 were killed instantly. The actual number of casualties is left undetermined. Instead of recovering the bodies, PNG officials decided to close off the area and let nature take its course.
The tragedies associated with this tsunami were tremendous for the survivors. Their loved ones were left to rot in the lagoon-like environment. They were left to scavenge for food and water, struggling to survive. They were plauged with disease. In an effort to limit disease spread and the number of amputations necessary, the government sent people in to kill the scavenging animals that had been feasting on the dead bodies. Nonetheless, many people still had to have limbs amputated because of gangrene.
Already a poor region, Papau New Guninea struggled to recover from the disaster. Many countries around the world donated funds (totaling in the millions of dollars) and supplies to help. Even so, the people who lived through the PNG tsunami say that they see examples of the effects of the tsunami still. The waves from the tsunami are not hitting the shores anymore, but they pound through the survivors' heads, and the disaster lives on.