Monday, July 20, 1998 Published at 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Eyewitnesses tell their story
The tidal wave struck at 7:30pm
The devastating tidal wave that hit the north-west coast of Papua New Guinea struck in the early evening as families were settling down for the night.
Father Austen Crapp is a Roman Catholic priest in the area.
"Then about twenty minutes later there was a huge roaring sound like a jet plane approaching the shore and a wave - actually three waves - hit the shore and because it was then 7:30 in the evening it was too dark to see.
"We heard lots of screaming and yelling from the people in the village down below."
Paul Saroya was in one of the villages when the huge wall of water crashed into the shore.
The region is remote and news was slow to emerge - even those nearby were not immediately aware of the scale of the disaster. Father Crapp desribes how he discovered the full extent of the devastation.
"That village had been wiped off the map by a tidal wave 10 metres high ... the whole sea front and the lagoon at the back of these villages is littered with debris and dead bodies."
At first reports of the number of dead were cautious although many more people were reported missing.
Local businessman Robert Parer was in touch with several villages.
"At poor old Arops they live between the beach and the lagoon, there's only a spit of sand they live on 2 km long; and it's just between the sea and a lagoon, so they've only got 100 metres of beach between either, so we don't know what's happened there."
As rescue operations got underway, hospitals filled rapidly as survivors were flown in - Dr Manos Ria helped to treat many of them.
"Also, because people were in the water, they have been hit by floating trees, so a lot of them are having multiple fractures, that means femur fractures, arms are broken, they've got major internal bleeding."
Amid the destruction there were some remarkable tales of survival as this unnamed rescue worker describes.
"She had probably been in the water all night, so we pulled her in and than carried her back up to where the helicopter was coming - [she had] a fractured femur."
As many as 2,000 villagers are still missing - rescuers hope that many are on high ground in the bush, fearful of returning to the beach.
But one survivor's bleak announcement sums up this tragedy more than any final body count can.