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Monday, July 20, 1998 Published at 19:25 GMT 20:25 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

PM's horror at wave destruction

Papua New Guine PM Bill Skate: "We lack facilities"

The Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Bill Skate, has told of his shock after touring the tsunami disaster area.

He said five villages were completely destroyed and bodies litter the water.

In an interview with Chris Gunness for the BBC World Service's East Asia Today programme he said bodies were so badly battered by the tsunami they were unidentifiable:

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Bill Skate: "Very ugly sight"
The latest situation is that we have lost about 700-plus people.

It is also difficult to identify who they are because the bodies have been terribly destroyed, some parts of the bodies are missing...

It is a very ugly sight. Five villages are totally, completely destroyed. There's hardly anything (left) and we believe some of the bodies are still under the water in the lagoons, some have floated out in to the sea.

But I'm encouraged that the international community is responding pretty well. We've got Australia coming in this morning, New Zealand has indicated they will help, Japan, Korea and the people in Papua New Guinea are also doing everything possible to assist, particularly the churches, the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and the business community.

Now some reports said the death toll could be as high as a thousand. Are you worried that the figure could rise?

I'm a very worried man, I think it will probably go up to 1,000, or it could be more.

I haven't been really sleeping for the last 24 hours and I am flying in to the area again to see the people again who are now living up in the mountains.

They are afraid to come down and live on the lower land because of the fear that the tidal wave might appear again.

I've also walked through the areas where there was devastation. For the first time in my life I saw bodies.

The saddest one was a child, you know totally, completely ... I don't know what word to use to describe, you can't even describe the body there of a little child. I broke into tears.

Last night I went in to Wewak hospital to visit about 60 or 70 people and I was very sad to see a little girl who had lost all her family. She is the only one living.

You said that you've visited a hospital. How are local facilities coping with this?

It's very difficult. The local doctors have the experience but we lack the facilities in terms of medical equipment and medicine and that's why it's very difficult, but they are doing everything possible.

They're doing everything possible to see that things are moving. I understand some of them were still working until early this morning.

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