31 deaths so far from PNG earthquake, number of injured remains unconfirmed

qqOur  biggest challenge as Papua New Guinean  journalists  has been verifying the statistics from rural areas with limited resources. As much as possible, I’ve tried to talk to a victim of the earthquake  or someone close to a victim.

Over the last 24 hours, it has been more of a ‘hit-and-miss’ situation.  People have been  sending me text messages at 2am in the morning when  they are in a mobile coverage area. Then they have have to go back to their villages or deal with the ongoing tremors. Getting in touch has been difficult.

So far,  the current death toll from Monday’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake stands at 31.

The three separate sources in Southern Highlands, Hela and Western Provinces have also said the number of those injured and missing remain uncertain at this stage. I note that overseas media is quoting a figure of 300. Truth is, we do not really know.

With the help of Milton Kwaipo, I was able to get a recorded interview of Firmin Tiki, from Pureni village, Hela province who confirmed six deaths in his village alone. Several of those injured by the quake have been take to Tari hospital for treatment. Again, we don’t know how many have been injured. 

“Six people died. I don’t know how many injured. But there are many.”

Tiki, a rice farmer at a National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) had just returned to his village when the quake struck early Monday.

“All our houses, our gardens have been destroyed. I don’t know about other places but we were hit hard,” he said.

It has been difficult getting in tough with Tari hospital.  Although I note the doctors have been working under difficult conditions to get through their surgeries using mobile phones torches. Across the Strickland River in villages near the epicentre on the Hela-Western border, a community Health Worker, Paul Isilawa, confirmed that 13 people were buried on Monday. They belong to the Edolo tribe whose hamlets are located in an area difficult to get to.

Sally Lloyd who grew up in the Western Province said nine of those who died are from Fau and four are from Aiya.  Both villages are within Hela Provincial boundary. The reports were sent from the Mogulu Mission Station in Western Province by two-way radio.

In Mendi, Catholic Priest Fr. Pius Hal, said  that 11 people including four children are confirmed dead. Two of the children belong to a local level government president. One family is still buried under a landslip.

“I am at the site where the family is buried. There is a lot of uncertainly about whether help will come. People are traumatised and they need to be comforted.

“The family who is buried are my relatives. They had just returned from Hagen the day before,” he said.

A great many thanks to the families of those on the ground. Thank you also to the cops who were kind enough to provide verification and direction.  My gratitude also goes to the many “citizen journalists” who provided contacts, independent reports, pictures, audio recordings and videos of the destruction. There are too many people  to name.

Mobile phone towers destroyed by the quake are slowly being repaired. So far, other information coming from far flung areas has remained unverified. The death toll is expected to rise as new information becomes available.

We still have a lot of work to do.

Four children among 10 dead in PNG earthquake

Earth quake damage in Western Province. Several provinces affected by the  7.6 magnitude quake. 

Four children are among at least 10 people killed in the Southern Highlands after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake stuck the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Half the number of reported deaths are in Mendi town.

Catholic priest, Fr. Pius Hal, told EMTV, two children belonging to a Local level government president are among five killed by quake triggered landslips.   The other two  were children of a senior Southern Highlands public servant.

Family members are in shock and have gathered at hauskrais. Another family – a man, his wife and child – are still buried in the rubble.

“We could not sleep. The quake began at 3.45am. We all went out of our houses.”

Mobile phone towers have also been damaged making communication between the Southern Highlands and other centers difficult.

The epicenter of the quake was located 89 kilometers south-west of Pogera at the depth of 35 kilometers.

In the Western Province, mining infrastructure belonging to Ok Tedi have also been damaged. Roads are cut off and pictures show massive landslides along roadsides and rivers.

In Western Highlands, electricity is still cut off.   Some workers in the center of town have returned home after their buildings were declared unsafe.

The National Government has since sent an assessment team to the Southern Highlands to assess the damage.

Norah Mugga Taumu calls on Governor Parkop, NCD police to make Gordons market safe

norahOne of the most dangerous bus stops in Port Moresby would be the Gordons market bus stop where women, young school children and even men are becoming victims to those criminals who roam the area.

Those drug bodies walk in groups aggressively harassing pedestrians who they see as vulnerable or those who they think have something on them that is valuable for them to steal, sell to make money for a bottle of warrior or a packet of marijuana.

This particular bus stop has become notorious for such petty crimes. Even men cannot do anything for the fear of being attacked if they try to help rescue someone from being attacked by those criminals.

Year after year, fights have happened because of them and the kind of crime caused. Even deaths have occurred but still nothing has been done to prevent those crimes continuing their evil doings. People’s personal items have been snatched from their very hands, even their belongings inside their vehicle are taken out, people get stabbed just from fighting back in order to protect themselves.

They are not afraid of anyone, not even cops. They walk the market area and are willing to kill for just a phone. Mostly women have fallen victims because they are seen as weak and vulnerable.

On Sunday the 3rd of February 2018, my daughter and I were on our way to the bus stop after attending service at the Assemblies of God Cornerstone Church.

While we were coming through where the bus 4s and 11’s are stationed, I looked straight ahead as always to make sure we do not bump into those criminals.

I saw an elderly lady walking towards the bus 12 bus stop caring her bilum, she was approached and surrounded by a group of boys … 10 of them (criminals with knives) one pointed a knife at her and the others pulled her bilum off from her and walked away while everyone stood there and watched. Men could not help but watch as those animals walked away smiling.

I turned around and also notice a young boy caring a bag on his back heading towards the bus 7 & 9 bus stop.

The same group of criminals walked towards the boy, surrounded him and took of his bag from his back while he just stood there defenceless.

They got the bag looked inside got his phone, his wallet and threw his bag on the road and walked off like they have done nothing wrong. I could not walk for fear of being attacked filled me. I ran with my daughter towards the police barracks entrance, made our way to the bus 15 bus top and safely made our way home. I shock with fright because I have seen such happen over and over again and every time such happens right before my eyes I picture myself, my daughter, my mother or sister being attacked like that.

It is just frightening.

I could not sleep that Sunday night. I was  still recalling the mother who was attacked  her bilum being removed from her hand. I told myself that very night, as one person what I can do to make this place a safer place for everyone?

I decided to see the Member for Port Moresby North East the very next day. But that was unsuccessful. I then decided to get in touch with the NCDC Governor however the only faster way I could think of was by reaching him on social media and I got through to him with him acknowledging receipt of  my message.

I wish this particular place can be much safer.   If bus stops like 2mile, Sabama, Kaugere can be free from petty criminals,  Why can’t  Gordons be the same?

I want to know  who is responsible for public  safety at  bus stops.  I question the people in  authority for not ensuring the safety of people moving here and there is paramount.

When can this particular bus stop be free from such crimes? Will the government wait until someone is stabbed and killed again to do something?

Gordons Bus stop is a central location where hundreds of people move here and there in  transit  and therefore should be one of the safest place for everyone to move freely.

Frank Makanuey pays tribute to David ‘Huembelo’ Rumagasen of Black Brothers

BBAs the Black Brothers Original Band Manager Mr. Andy Ayamseba says of BB original Band Member, David Rumagasen, “Mr. Huembelo”….tonight we say goodbye Mr. Huembelo. Rest In Peace.

It is raining in Gahuna Gaudi tonight, and I have escaped into the dry comfort of the blue ten seater. I sit alone amid the rhythm of the rain on the landcruiser rooftop, and I cry silently for the passing of Kaka (big brother) David Rumagasen an original member of the the famous Black Brothers  band.

Rest In Peace, kaka David. You are a legend.

David Rumagasen, the Black Bros multitalented musician who could play the guitar and any wind instrument, but the many fans of BB will remember him for is his haunting rendition of the hit song Huembelo. His flawless voice as he holds those notes, and rapidly citing the words without missing a bit is a feat in itself, and in my humble views shares the same praise when musicians around the world talk about Whitney Houston and her singing.

No one can sing the Huembelo quite like David Rumagasen himself. He wrote it, in his local dialect, and he sang it, the way his tribal ancestors sang it. He was quite a remarkable singer. He did justice to Huembello.

I grieved tonight feeling the loss, and I grieve for the way the Black Brothers created my identity. Black Brothers gave me hope in my teenage years. They  gave me bragging rights. I grieve for my big brother David. The West Papuan Music industry has lost an icon.

I shed more tears when I see  David being consoled on his sick bed by yet another of the original Black Brothers band member and Keyboard player Yochie Pettipeluhu.…Sio sayang kaka David, sayang….

Rest In Peace, Mr. Huembelo!

Taufi Buase’s tale of his older Asaro brother who made life richer

Before Dad and Mum decided to have beautiful kids. They made the happiest decision of their life (well Dad’s idea in fact😂) to adopt a helpless young man off the streets of Mosbi who was about to scramble into crime.
A hard head and domesticated to drugs and alcohol, mum and dad moulded him into something, like every loving and caring parents would do. Originating from Asaro, his character, love and energy of joy is like caramelised onions for burgers. You would never miss him around the house.
From doing the chores and errands for the house, to picking us at school and to knowing where mum and dad would hide their precious belongings in the closet of the main room. He always on point.
One fine day mum and dad came back home after work and decided to give him a break and decided to give a little blessing. His pocket got a bit to thick for his head. Before he left the house dad shouted at him while he was super excited walking away, “Renagi, buy your stuff and come get straight home!”
Giggling and smiling he headed for the liquor shop.
The typical Asaro he is, he got his case put on the shoulder smiled and took the wrong turn ending  up somewhere (god knows where).
Meanwhile mum and dad were getting worried about their only child (back then). The best news arrived in the morning like a pineapple in the sunshine. Their only son was behind bars at Boroko Cell for drinking and making nuisance in public.
Mum was stressed, Dad was all calm about it.
All dad said was “let him be,  he’ll be fine.”
The next couple of days lapsed. Now dad was getting worried. So he decided to stop by at the Boroko Police station.  Only to find his son had went for trail and had been sent up to Bomona. (Back then punishment was harsh.)
Dad was shocked so he asked the officer what name was he using. To which the officer replied “Buase”. The “My goodness” reaction on dad’s face was priceless as mum recalled.  Dad was all thinking all along so hard as to why he was using that surname.
A few  weeks later,  dad went up to Bomana to bring him down.
As the wardens used the PA system to announce his name, dad just shook his head while listening to his surname being called. There came out their  only son. Every inmate and warden was  shouting, smiling and  saying goodbye  to him.
Dad knew that  his character was contagious.
Driving down from Bomana, dad had one of those  moments with him. This is what dad shouted in an angry tone “Harim ah? Next taim yu go lo Boroko or Bomana, usim name we mama karim yu lo em. Yu blari lonlong!”
“Yu laik go back lo Bomana o nogat?” dad yelled while pulling his ears.
He replied while he was crying like a toddler with his head down: “Nogat fada mi les.” He never saw Boroko and Bomana ever again.
The rest they say it’s history! Let me remind you,  my siblings and I were somewhere in Pluto. This story become a like a fairy tale as we grew with it.
Some 30 years later  I become part of the fairy tale. This time with dad not around. Dad passed away in 2013 after a long battle with cancer.
We went to get his ticket to fly to Goroka.  Whilst the lady at counter was asking me for his surname repeatedly. I automatically looked across to him with a serious face, he smiled at me and started laughing.  I was like “Meh yu smile na lap lo wonem, gim name hariap kam na yumi go.”
He slowly pulled out his rugged old faded driving license  (his first, that Dad got) from some 25 years back threw it at the lady and I and said “BUASE”. Tears dropped from his eyes as he stood up and slowly walked out.
I got hit hard once again. Thanks Dad.
Before Golly, Annie, Kora, Myself & Bing. From day one,
Neneveh, Tru Ave.

Held at gunpoint, kidnapped & left near a police barracks

Sirinumu Dam

It was 1997, my first year at EMTV. El Nino was at its worst and the water level the Sirinumu Dam was at its lowest.

I was new on the job and keen to film effects of El Nino on Port Moresby City. NCDC had implemented water and power rationing to conserve the precious water at the Dam.

Cameraman, the late Kenny Merriam, and I travelled to Sogeri at about 10am to film pictures at the Dam.   It was the first time I had been inside the dam area.

Water levels had dropped to unprecedented levels. It was, indeed, the worst drought since the 1980s.

Kenny lugged the large, heavy 3CCD camcorder and the old aluminium tripod and began filming. By the time he finished, he found that the vehicle wouldn’t start. We tried everything we could but nothing worked.

By 5pm, a mechanic from PNG power arrived to assist. It took him about an hour to sand the points where the spark plugs touch. Then, a few minutes later, he started the vehicle.

It was getting dark as we made our way out from the dam to the main road. The road was rough and made travel slow. When we reached the main road, night had descended.

Things didn’t feel right.

A few kilometrs down, Kenny said: ‘Hey did you see someone crossing the road behind us?” I didn’t say anything. It was odd. There were no villages nearby and no people.

We drove further down along the long winding Sogeri road. . Further away from where Kenny had asked his strange question, we came to a sharp corner with a few potholes. Kenny had to slow down as he manoeuvred the vehicle.

It was a HiAce van. Bad for potholes.

Just as he slowed, a figure popped up beside the vehicle, wrapped his arm tightly around Kenny’s neck and put, what appeared to be a sawn off shotgun to Kenny’s head.

“Slow down! Slow down! Or Bai mi sutim yu!

The clarity of mind fled. Kenny raised one hand and slowed the vehicle.   About six of them pulled out Kenny, then came over to my side and forced me out as well.

We were pushed into the back of the vehicle. I turned around to see heir faces and one of them shouted: “Don’t look at me! Yu lukluk lo wanem?!”

Another took a metal pipe and hit me over the head with one end. For a moment, I blacked out. I put my hand to my head to feel if there was any blood. Nothing.

But a rather large bump was forming on my head where the pipe had struck.

Two of them forced Kenny and I on to the floor of the van. I was on my side in a feotal position in the cramped space. There was no room to move or resist. One of them put his knee heavily on my shoulder and pinned me onto the floor.

With both hands, he put the tip of double sided dagger just under my ribcage. He pressed down on the dagger whenever I tried to move. We didn’t see where we were going except we knew we were heading to Port Moresby.

After an hour, we drove off the main road. I could tell because we were driving on rough road and I could hear the grass against the underside of the vehicle.

Suddenly we stopped.

‘Get out! Get out,’ they said. We got out. Then they asked us where we were from. Then one of them, the leader, I guessed, said: “Boys… noken bagarapim skin blo ol. Just taitim ol na yumi go. (Don’t hurt them, just tie them up and let’s go.)

They couldn’t find ropes. So they just took our boots and the jeans we were wearing and they drove off. We were left with boxers and the t-shirts we were wearing. It was pitch black and we didn’t know where we were.

We walked a few meters up the road then we saw the slight silhouette of a pair of houses. We walked up the hill and found a small compound.

It was about 9pm when we got there. We called out and a kid of about 17 came out. This was the home of a Goilala family who lived there. They helped us with some clothes. We later found out we had been left a few kilometrs behind the McGregor Police barracks.

The kid’s older brother then took us to the back gate of the police barracks left us there.

With the help of police, we were able to get to Boroko where we filed a report. Nobody was caught. Our camera was later recovered.

This was perhaps the worst of the six armed hold up incidents I encountered in Port Moresby in 1997 and 1998.

It was an interesting period.



The tedious job of tracking the delivery of the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy

JBOSince the last year, EMTV journalist, Julie Badui Owa has been tracking the delivery of the much talked about Tuition Fee Free (TFF)   money supposedly paid to schools in the Morobe province.

Getting the information  is a long tedious task that includes talking to school principals, checking school enrolment records, bank statements and calculating the amount that is supposed to be paid into the schools’ accounts.

It is not a glamorous story. There is no real ‘fame and fortune’ to be gained.

She has found that the information is always sketchy. There is almost always a mismatch between what government authorities in Port Moresby say and what the schools expect to get.

Julie has also found that there is a general lack of information on how the TFF components are calculated. She has also found that there are widespread complaints about the lack of consultation between the suppliers of school materials and the schools.

At the beginning of the 2018 academic year,   she found that a relatively large number of schools in Lae District were still owed TFF money from 2017. The overall picture doesn’t look good for education authorities.

In Lae District Julie spoke to eight primary school head teachers, one  secondary school principal, and one elementary school head teacher. In total, the schools are owed K3.7 million.

In the Nawaeb District, the Nawaeb High School is owed K1.2 million. Menyamya District’s Hakwange Primary is still waiting for an outstanding payment of K40,000.

The story is the same with other provinces. In Pomio, Palmalmal Secondary is in debt. It owes K120,000 to a local trade store for the supply of food rations.

In Eastern Highlands, West Goroka Primary is owed more than K400,000. This information was sourced this week by EMTV cameraman, Maisen Hungito who traveled to Goroka for another  job.  It is not made up. It is not secondhand information cooked up to discredit the TFF policy. Authorities have to see the realities on the ground and admit that we have a problem.

Lae Secondary School decided to charge K600 per student. The school administration knows TFF won’t come on time. They, like many other schools, defied the government directives not to charge fees because they know TFF money won’t come on time.

Initially, school principles were hesitant to speak out about the problem. But they have come to see that managing the schools has   become increasingly difficult without funding. So much so that they have begun speaking out.