This article was written by Claire Varley
On the night of the Japan Tsunami, March 20011, tsunami warnings were issued across the Solomon Islands. In Buala, Isabel Province, communication is quite limited and people depend on mobile coverage, which became inundated and unreliable. The Province also did not have a strong, well-rehearsed natural disaster response and there was a great deal of confusion and panic.
Buala FM, a small community radio station, broadcasted the warning and advised people to go to higher ground before going off air.
The larger Buala area was inundated with two 2 metre waves that damaged a number of buildings and stores and swept away a great deal of items such as boats, pots, pans, bedding and other household items. There was a great deal of panic in both the time preceding the wave and in the aftermath as people had no idea what was happening. Many people fled up to the high lands and refused to come back down for two days. There was a tangible sense of confusion and fear in the village in the following days as people started to take stock of what they had lost and started to clean up the village.
The morning immediately afterwards, Buala FM went to RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands), the Provincial Police Commander and the Premier and invited them to make a statement on air updating people on what was going on. RAMSI and the PPC both took up this opportunity and spoke on air about what had happened and how the rest of the island/country had been affected. As communication is limited in Isabel, many people had been unable to contact family in other parts of the Province to ensure they were alright.
The station also broadcast a small session about the effects of trauma and how this was a normal response to something like a tsunami, as well as doing an on air relaxation and refocussing exercise. Afterwards many people, including children, reported how helpful they had found it. One woman came up to me in market and told me how she had been shaking since the tsunami when she had been convinced she was going to die, and how all week she hadn’t been able to get up and leave the house, hadn’t been able to eat and hadn’t been able to do anything, and how my short session really helped her and know she recognises that she has trauma and that it is normal.
The stations have expressed to the Provincial Government that they are keen to be a part of the any revised disaster management strategy and are waiting to hear back on this.