24 March 2017 – The head of the Salvation Army in Papua New Guinea says riots that swept through the main streets of capital city Port Moresby on Friday caused “great devastation” to people who already had so little.
Territorial Commander Colonel Kelvin Alley said he watched on helplessly as vital community services like the supermarket, medical centre, dentist and chemist burnt to the ground.
“These places where people had jobs, jobs that were probably the only income to a large extended family. Gone,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“The street rumour is that the fire was started deliberately.
“If so, it is a crime against people who every day face the injustices of poverty and deprivation, who often seek out a living on the streets and markets, but who depend on these vital services.”
Col Alley said although the situation had eased, the city’s Boroko region had experienced “great devastation”.
“Now that calm has been restored, we are left with this terribly empty feeling due to the totally unnecessary loss and destruction of not just buildings, but buildings that represent vital services to people who desperately need them,” he said.
Col Alley described looting during the riots as “astounding”, with hundreds of people taking part in order to get their hands on free goods.
It’s unclear what prompted the riots.
Kathy Testh, who works at the Mapang Missionary Home a few blocks away from the riots, told AAP she woke up to the sound of gunshots.
Ms Testh said she drove to a meeting only to return to find the main roads cordoned off and being manned by armed guards, to stop more people entering the area.
Col Alley said several Salvation Army staff had taken ill after smoke inundated the buildings, located on the same street as the riots.
“Almost the entire business block across the road has been destroyed, unnecessarily by raging fires, rampant looting and out of control crowds,” he said.
He said the Salvation Army was committed to supporting the community to rebuild.