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Dominicans Devastated As Tsunami Hits Solomon Islands

Catholic Church
St. Peter the Apostle Catherdral in Gizo is damaged after a powerful earthquake and tsunami struck the Solomon Island's second biggest town.

SOLOMON ISLANDS April 8, 2007 -- At 6.40 am on Monday, April 2, an earthquake measuring 8.1 hit the western Solomon Islands.  The resulting tsunami hit the far west of the Solomons.  Dominican friars and sisters serve in many areas of the Solomons, particularly in Gizo and Loga – a tiny island a few minutes east of Gizo. They have lost most of their possessions.

CNN reports 34 people dead. The Red Cross said about 2,000 of Gizo's 7,000 people are homeless. No injuries were reported among the Dominicans; although damage is severe and sources report that the Dominicans there are now homeless, although the friars’ house may have survived.

The sisters on Loga were at breakfast when they felt the earthquake and the sea retreated. Recognizing a coming ttidal wave, they escaped up the hill. The Loga house and novitiate were flooded - 'Everything is floating' reported one sister. Loga is where the formation programs of both the friars and the sisters is situated. There are five postulants, a novice and five friars in formation.

In Gizo, the lower story of the Bishop's house was flooded and the church is damaged as well - from the quake and the water. The hospital was evacuated.

“The immediate need is for food, water and medical supplies as all are in short supply,’ said Jamie Isbister, head of programs with Caritas Australia. AP sources reported severe shortages of water and food as well as slow relief efforts. An international relief operation for Solomon Islands tsunami survivors picked up its pace Friday, as reports of dysentery added urgency to the effort.

In the diocese of Gizo, there are four main islands all of which have parishes. On the island of Nila, there is a parish church and the sisters had a girls’ school and a small maternity hospital there. The church is still standing but the school and clinic have been destroyed.

“We can only be grateful that no Dominican seems to have died, although a number of Catholic parishioners have lost their lives, and many are homeless,” reported Nick Punch, OP, friar and former provincial.

There are two parishes on Choiseul Island. Moli is on the south coast and Sirovanga is on the north coast along with  a number of churches in various villages. Punch reports that the church at Moli, together with its catechetical center have been destroyed.

Bishop Bernard O’Grady of the Gizo diocese is also homeless and the cathedral and all the offices have been destroyed, according to fr. Punch. Other reports indicate that in the aftermath, students from the school have been combing the area to be of assistance and the Chinese Community in Gizo have been freely feeding the people from what they have in their stores.

Some electricity is present, along with phone lines. Water is scarce and difficult to deliver. Assessments are still being made of the damage. As of Wednesday, Gizo's airport remained closed, and helicopters or a boat journey of several hours were the only ways to get emergency supplies to the town.

The mission of the sisters in the Solomons belongs to the Australian Dominican Sisters. This group is called the Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia and the Solomon Islands. The Prioress General is Sr. Rosemary Lewins

The mission of the friars is a vicariate of the Province of the Assumption, serving in Australia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Fr Tom Cassidy is the prior of Assumption Province.

A special Dominican Relief Fund has been established for those who can offer assistance. Use the link here to the International Justice and Peace website

Please continue to hold our Family in your prayers.

Tsunami Solomon Islands

Take Action Please:

A relief fund is being established for donations. Contact Sr. Rosemary Lewins

for more information or visit the International Justice and Peace website for banking transfer information.

"The recovery operation is not going as fast as expected because of delays here in Honiara," Alfred Maesulia, an official in the Prime Minister's Department, told The Associated Press. "Suppliers don't have the volumes of relief materials we need to send."

Contributing Sources:

fr. Nick Punch, OP
Adrian Smith, SM
Archbishiop of the
Archdiocese of Honiara
OP Family Matters
a newsletter of the Dominican Family in Australia, New Zealand, Solomons and Papua New Guinea)

Caritas International

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