GOLD COAST - The Sub District Office at Kabwum was an extensive complex composed of steel girders and locally made concrete brick walls.
Every time a guria [earthquake] began the entire government staff would rapidly vacate the building accompanied with low level mutters of, “Oh, oh, stone house”.
During one guria, the Council adviser’s wife was caught in the shower and vacated the premises clad just in a towel and shower cap.
I will always remember the sensation of feeling the earthquake as it passed underneath me. Every molecule of soil and stone is in motion and the result is akin to floating; it seems there is nothing solid beneath you.
And with a really big ‘quake you can actually see the earth moving like waves.
In 1972 I was conducting a census amongst the people around Derim airstrip in the Kabwum Sub District.
All of us were assembled at the head of the airstrip where I’d set up my patrol table with the census book on it. In front of me, sitting, there were about 500 people; men to the right of me and women to the left.
Looking beyond them, I could see along the valley to the junction of the Yalumet River from where it continued north to the nambis [coast] to the west of Wasu Patrol Post.
Suddenly there was a rumbling as of distant thunder and Constable Netato standing behind me said, “guria ikam masa” (‘There’s an earthquake coming, sir’).
The noise got louder until it was deafening. The mountain sides at the mouth of the valley began to shake forcefully and the trees shuddered backwards and forwards. The pulsating ground moved rapidly up the valley towards us like a gigantic Mexican wave.
Huge slabs of red soil and jungle began sliding down the mountains exposing the brilliant white limestone beneath.
The crowd became agitated and stood up but there was nowhere to go. Then the quake arrived with a frightening roar and the nearby buildings and trees rocked and shook while we looked on helplessly. The haus kiap nearby threatened to jump of its piles and tear itself apart.
The quake passed as quickly as it arrived and we settled down to continue the census.
I don’t recall ever seeing much earthquake damage to locally constructed village buildings, constructed to be held together with kunda vines and bamboo lashings, able to absorb the shaking without breaking apart.