Father Otton's story

The Sacred Heart church at Sissano was built by German SVD missionaries in 1926 and was modified in subsequent years with modern building materials. It was a tall and spacious building and seated about 500 people. The structure had a timber frame with walls partly of locally-made cement breeze blocks and partly of wooden shingles, and a tiered roof of corrugated iron.
The church survived the massive earthquake of 1935 (magnitude 7.9) and the very strong earthquake of 17 July 1998 (magnitude 7.0) with only minor damage, but did not survive the tsunami. Today only the concrete floor remains.
On the afternoon of 17 July David Monana of Nimas was sitting on the tractor near the church when he felt the unusually strong earthquake. Statues in front of the church were broken and David's mother called to Father Otton Ratazchek to inspect the damage.
Father Otton walked the 75 metres or so from his house and together they entered the church to clean up. The shaking caused some damage to a roof brace and some cracking of the walls, so after cleaning up they went outside again for safety.
Father Otton returned to his house but after a while heard a strange noise from out to sea. He left the house and walked towards the beach to investigate but was met by his catechist, running at top speed and calling out a warning about a big wave.
Together they ran away from the sea towards the boat landing on the lagoon. Behind them the waves broke on the beach flattening a grove of young coconut palms. The water swept through the mission station carrying all before it.

Email: hdavies@upng.ac.pg