An earthquake which struck the Papua New Guinean island of Bougainville on Holy Saturday brought chaos and destruction to persons and property, according to the local bishop. “I had been having a mumu meal offered by a family for Easter, but also to remember the first anniversary of my mum's death … we almost had it as a last meal,” Bishop Bernard Unabali of Bougainville said. Mumu is a traditional Papua New Guinean means of cooking, using a rock-lined earthen pit which is then covered with banana leaves. The April 19 quake was centered 47 miles southwest of Panguna, and had a magnitude of 7.5. It had been preceded by a number of smaller tremors, beginning April 4, according to Bishop Unabali. “Since then they have been felt stronger and more frequent in the southwest, especially the islands of Buin, Siwai, Bana, and Torokina … the area where the epicenter is reported to be close to.” Two quakes on April 11 killed at least two persons. Bishop Unabali said that the Holy Saturday earthquake caught some unawares as they returned from earlier Easter Vigils, and that at some parishes with Masses starting later due to a shortage of priests, people became trapped in the churches. “So imagine what happened,” he said. At some parishes, “homilies were cut short,” and “one place was at the blessing of the baptismal water and the shaking of the water had the priest baptized rather than the babies.” Bishop Unabali was pleased to say that all of his priests remained with their people during the earthquake. At one parish, a young girl struck her head on a brick as people were rushing out of the church, and there was a death at another parish also. Several parishes on the southern end of Bougainville island suffered extensive damage to their buildings and foundations, as well as damaged statues, tabernacles, and crucifixes. The homes and gardens of many were destroyed by landslides. At Torokina, a village on Bougainville’s central west coast, inhabitants had to move inland from the rising sea. Some rivers on the island have become filled with earth and debris from landslides. Bishop Unabali lamented, “we do not have a diocese-level Caritas and proper set up … we are organizing to collect data through individuals from remote areas and site visits wherever possible.” “We need to prepare ourselves first, though we may need help from outside.” The Bougainville diocese was elevated from a vicariate apostolic in 1966. In 2012, it had 17 diocesan priests and 13 religious, and 31 parishes. 66 percent of the population of 219,000 are Catholic. Papua New Guinea is a Melanesian nation consisting of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, as well as numerous other, smaller, islands. It is located north of Australia and east of Indonesia.
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