Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gulf PMV tragedy remembered

Caption: A family brought even closer together by tragedy…Sophia Auhava, Colbert Ivosa Kovea and Damien Feareka.-Picture by AURI EVA




On Saturday, May 30, 2009, young Damien Feareka, 31, from Lese Oalai village, Gulf province, was travelling home from Port Moresby to be with wife Sophia, 28, and three-year-old son Colbert Ivosa Kovea.

A devout Catholic, Feareka, a storeman with Airways Hotel in Port Moresby was travelling home that weekend to be with his wife and son for a church festival for Mother Mary.

With him on the passenger truck, along with about 26 other passengers, was his loyal brother-in-law, Sylvester Auhava, 31, a subsistence farmer from Lese Oalai.

Mother Mary must have deserted them that day, and they never made it to Lese Oalai.

Near Bereina, Central province, about 100km west of Port Moresby, their truck collided head-on with another passenger truck from Gulf province killing 17 people, in what was Papua New Guinea’s worst-ever road accident, until the Jan 12, 2010, accident involving two passenger buses along the Markham Valley of Morobe province in which more than 40 people were killed 

Fourteen passengers and the two drivers died instantly in the Bereina accident on the Saturday afternoon of May 30, 2009,  while a young boy died later from severe internal injuries at the Port Moresby General Hospital.

Many survivors were taken to hospital, some with life-threatening injuries and others suffering broken arms and legs.

One passenger truck was heading to neighbouring Gulf province, while the other truck was heading for Port Moresby.

The vehicles were reportedly carrying 28 passengers each, many of whom were sleeping at the time of the crash.

“I went off to sleep,” Feareka tells me.

“When I woke up, I was shocked.

“I had a dislocated hip, a bone in my right leg was broken, the forefingers of my right hand were broken and I had hit my head.

“It happened around 3 o’clock.

“On the PMV we were travelling on, only four people survived.

“When I woke up, I couldn’t get up, until some people came and pulled me out.

“The only family member I lost was my tambu (in-law), Sylvester Auhava, from Lese Oalai.

“I’m married to his sister.”

Feareka has taken a year off work from his job as a storeman with Airways Hotel because of the serious nature of his injuries.

“I’ve gone through a lot of pain and trauma,” he reveals.

“Sometimes, when I sit down by myself, all those memories come back to haunt me.

“It also comes back to haunt me when I look at my bad legs.”

Perhaps because of his Christian upbringing, Feareka doesn’t harbor a grudge against those who may have been responsible for the tradgedy, except to say that drivers must drive more carefully and avoid consuming alcohol.

He thanks God for the fact that he is still alive and feels an empathy for those who lost family members

“PMV drivers always travel at top speed to pick up passengers in Gulf province and travel back to Port Moresby,” he says.

“The main cause of the accident was drinking and driving, plus driving at top speed

“I was going home for the weekend, because there was a feast for Mother Mary.

“We were travelling home for that occasion and we got involved in the accident.

“Nobody was thrown off the vehicle.

“We were all on board.

“They brought me to Bereina clinic.

“There were only two ambulances around at that time.

“I was brought over by my uncles, who travelled from Port Moresby to Bereina, and brought me to Port Moresby.

“I stayed in hospital for two months.

“I didn’t lose my job.

“My bosses told me that when I was fit enough, I could go back and work.

“Right now, I’m not working, because they have to take the metal out of my right thigh.

“I have to go back for another operation.”

Feareka, wife Sophia Auhava and four-year-old son Colbert are a picture of family love as they speak with me last Sunday.

Colbert runs around asking mum and dad for a lolly, oblivious to the fact that his dad may not be with him today.

“I was shocked and surprised to hear about the accident,” Sophia says as she fights back tears.

“I was in the village when the accident happened.

“After the accident, the next day, we came to Port Moresby.

“I lost my elder brother, Sylvester, who was travelling with my husband.”

The family, now closer than ever before since the accident, plan to travel to Lese Oalai to remember the accident, and particularly their brother and uncle Sylvester Auhava.

Gulf provincial disaster task force caretaker committee chairman, Jacob Ivaroa, is the one mandated to look after victims of the accident.

“There were many contributing factors to that accident,” he tells me.

“One of the key factors was the atrocious road conditions.

“The accident happened immediately after a sharp corner, where there are huge potholes.

“The driver wanted to avoid these potholes and didn’t see the oncoming vehicle.

“The driver travelling down to Gulf was tired because the previous day, he came from Gulf, returned, and then drove back to Port Moresby.

“He finished at about midnight, had a few hours of sleep, and then started picking up passengers at 7am for another trip.

“His fatigue affected his judgement.

“If he was not under stress, this would not have happened.

“There’s also evidence of both vehicles trying to avoid each other.

“Many of the people would also not have died had we had good medical services.

“Many of the people were alive after the accident, but died from things like loss of blood.”

May 30, 2009, was one of the saddest moments in the history of Gulf province and PNG as it was on this day that the then worst-ever road accident in the country took place.

As we remember those who lost their lives, we hope that some good will come out of this tragedy, for both Gulf and PNG.

Rest in Peace.


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