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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Tidal devastation: One year on

The lives of the people from this peninsula have changed - perhaps forever

By the BBC's Michael Peschardt

A year ago this weekend, one of the world's worst tidal waves - known as a tsunami - hit a series of villages in Papua New Guinea, killing hundreds of people.

Michael Peschardt: No getting away from the pain caused by the giant wave
Although many of their homes have now been rebuilt, the villagers are still coming to terms with the devastation.

Many local people spent months searching for loved ones after the tragedy. Their graves still litter the beach.

The tsunami hit at night, destroying villages across a thin spit of land bordering a lagoon. It followed a powerful earthquake out at sea.

Lagoon rife with disease

Rescuers attempted to bury the dead as soon as possible, but many bodies were jammed into the tops of palm trees.

[ image: Bodies were caught up in palm trees]
Bodies were caught up in palm trees
The waters of the lagoon became so infested with disease from the rotting bodies that the whole area had to be sealed off.

Health problems persist.

"One of the big problems in this area is that people have to walk for days and days to reach a hospital," said Dr Menno Swier from Aitapi Hospital.

"Most of them are so sick that you really have to hope they are going to recover."

Fear of the sea

The wave has changed everything, perhaps for ever.

The people of the lagoon were a seafaring people. They have now moved inland, too frightened of the sea which once provided their living and their way of life.

"We find it very, very hard. We are not used to this," said Ansselm Rayan, a villager who has been displaced.

"We used to live on the beach, the children loved to play and swim on the beach."

Psychological devastation

One of most remote areas of earth, this is a place where superstition and religious faith have become deeply enmeshed.

[ image: Schools and other cultural institutions were devastated]
Schools and other cultural institutions were devastated
Aid workers say the tidal wave destroyed far more than the villages.

"The damage wasn't only physical, it was mental, it was spiritual, it was traditional, it was cultural," said recovery co-ordinator, Tas Makatu.

"The resilience of the people has never ceased to amaze me. The people are strong and courageous. And their willingness to live life is tremendous."

Some families have returned to the seashore, attempting to resume their old life, but for most it is still far too soon.

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