JAKARTA (UCAN) — A Catholic church in Manokwari is giving shelter and distributing food for earthquake survivors after a series of powerful quakes hit the capital of West Papua province beginning on Jan. 4.
“More than 5,000 people fled their homes and took refuge in the compound of St. Augustine Church in Manokwari,” Father Aloysius Teniwut of Emmanuel Church in Sanggeng-Manokwari told UCA News by phone on Jan. 5.
The local Church has erected five large tents to accommodate hundreds of people — mainly children, mothers and elderly — and is distributing food among them, he reported.
Soon after the first quake struck, thousands of people rushed to higher ground because they feared a tsunami, he recounted.
According to the Augustinian priest, his parish church, another church and several mission-station buildings sustained cracks due to the quakes, but no Catholic educational institutions were damaged.
Media reports quoted the U.S. Geological Survey as saying the first quake struck at 4:43 a.m., with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale, making it a major earthquake. The epicenter was located about 135 kilometers from the town, at a depth of 35 kilometers. Dozens of aftershocks followed.
Another quake, this one of 6.1-magnitude, struck the town on Jan. 7 at 7:48 a.m. The official death toll from the quakes currently stands at five — two in Manokwari and three in Sorong district. Dozens of people are injured, and more than 17,000 people have been displaced. Hundreds of houses sustained serious damage.
The Meteorology and Geophysics Agency issued a tsunami alert, but revoked this within an hour.
Father Mendardus Pujiharsono from St. Augustine Church reported by phone that his parish activities have continued uninterrupted. “We celebrated Sunday Mass outside our parish church together with the displaced people,” he said.
According to the priest, Manokwari-Sorong diocese and Karitas Indonesia (Karina), the Indonesian bishops’ humanitarian services agency, have pledged to send aid.
“They are making a list of people who have not yet received any aid,” he said, adding that the central government had assigned four ministers to visit and to distribute aid for the displaced people.
The Jakarta-based daily Kompas reported on Jan. 6 that the central government had started distributing food, medicine, emergency equipment and money the previous day.
Karina’s deputy director, Jesuit Father Ignatius Ismartono, told UCA News he had asked a priest in Manokwari to help distributing Karina’s aid.
“We have been working since Sunday morning, contacting local priests in order to prepare the aid distribution,” he said, adding that Karina’s principle is to help those who have not received support from the central government or other institutions.
“We are also building a network with a (Manokwari-Sorong) diocesan commission, priests and young Catholics in order to offer long-term assistance,” added Father Ismartono, who also coordinates the bishops’ Center for Crisis and Reconciliation.