MARRIAGE DEMANDED OF RESCUED CHIMBU WOMEN

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CHIMBU, Papua New Guinea (November 8, 1999 – Post-Courier)---Three Chimbu women, saved from drowning, are faced with the demand that they marry their rescuers.

They were among more than 60 people thrown into the flooding Wahgi River when a newly built wire footbridge across the river collapsed on Friday, Post-Courier reporter Willie Palme was told over the weekend.

The people, from both the South and North Wahgi districts of Western Highlands Province, were trying to cross the new footbridge.

The bridge collapsed hours before the official opening was due to be made by local MP Dr. Fabian Pok.

An 18-year-old man was later found dead, floating at the side of the river 10 kilometers (six miles) from the collapsed bridge.

One man is missing while another is in a critical condition at Catholic mission run Kudjip Hospital.

Some swam to the sides of the river while others, mostly children, were plucked from the fast-flowing Wahgi.

The people were part of a crowd of a thousand people who went to the riverside near Kerowil and Minj to witness the opening of the footbridge.

Lands Minister and North Wahgi member Dr. Fabian Pok was stunned when he drove from Mount Hagen to officially open the footbridge he had funded under his Rural Action Program allocation.

Three of the young women saved from drowning were taken away by their rescuers, young men who claimed them as their brides.

One told reporters, "I have saved her life from the Wahgi River and in reward, I am going to marry her.’’

Danga Tribes Councilor Aron Alye, who was rescued from the water, told the Post-Courier that the tragedy had shocked him.

John Kui rescued Alye as he was being swept away.

Alye said he was among the third group on the footbridge when it fell into the river.

"While we were all in the center of the footbridge, I heard a big bang like a bomb exploding,’’ Alye said.

"Suddenly the bridge collapsed and threw all of us on it into the running Wahgi River,’’ he said.

"It was like the Hollywood movie style . . . Some struggled to swim to the sides (of the river) and many calling out for help," Alye said.

Local rescuer John Kui said he took his clothes off and swam into the river and first brought Councilor Aron Alye out.

He again swam five kilometers (about 3 miles) down the Wahgi and rescued two small children between the age of 8 and 12.

Another rescuer, Mark Gusamb, did the same by swimming three kilometers (1.9 miles) and saved a 14-year-old youth’s life.

The river is one of the biggest in the Western Highlands.

 

LEADERS UPSET AT BRIDGE COLLAPSE

CHIMBU, Papua New Guinea (October 8, 1999 – Post-Courier)---Councilors and local leaders from North and South Wahgi have blamed the Department of Works for the loss of lives from newly built wire footbridge across the Wahgi River that collapsed on Friday.

North Wahgi Council Vice President Peter Ak, Danga Tribes Councilor Aron Alye and other leaders were deeply upset at the loss of lives in the Wahgi River.

Ak and Alye claimed that the bridge, which was due to be officially opened, had been improperly constructed.

They said their local MP, Dr. Fabian Pok, funded the footbridge with government money and gave the money to the Works Department.

Alye, who was also caught in the Wahgi River bridge collapse, said he believed there must have been a problem with the bridge’s foundations.

He said the footbridge collapsed when the big wires on the northern side of the Wahgi came loose from the weight of more than 60 people who were trying to walk across at the same time.

He said the wire uprooted the concrete foundations on both sides of the Wahgi.

"The people were thrown into the flooded Wahgi, resulting in an 18-year-old man confirmed dead, another still missing in the river, and others in critical condition at Kudjip Hospital.

Meanwhile, he said, some swam to the banks and others were pulled out of the river by local rescuers.

He also said that after the completion of the bridge, nobody had erected a sign to tell people how many people were supposed to cross the bridge at one time.

"This kind of information was not given," Ayle said.

He said the people would seek an independent investigation into the construction of the bridge over the Wahgi.

Alye said the Department of Works will be asked to meet the cost of the lives lost in the river disaster and other damages to the Wahgi people.

"We will be taking the State and Public Works Department to court for what happened," he said.

The bridge was completed two weeks ago.

It collapsed several hours before the official opening was to be made by lands Minister and local North Wahgi MP Dr. Fabian Pok.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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