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Massive Earthquake Hits Southern Highlands


Capuchin missionaries were awakened shortly after 3:30 a.m. by the strange, violent shaking of the friary and the erratic ringing of the church bell.  They jumped from their beds, searching for flashlights and cell phones.  Bookshelves toppled, dishes poured out of the kitchen cabinets, chairs were overturned and sliding around the floor as the friars blindly made their way through the house to escape.  It was chaos in darkness.

When they finally made it outside, the five friars held on to each other.  They looked to the skies only to see bright stars in a clear, chilled night.  It wasn't a violent thunderstorm.  Still the earth beneath them quaked and rolled.  Nothing made sense.  They heard the house and church cracking and breaking, but it was an alien sound that only made for incomprehensible confusion.  The frantically ringing church bell suddenly stopped with a loud crack and thud.

The friars tried to call other missionaries in the Highlands but were able only to contact the friars who lived on the coast and were unaffected by the quake.  Suddenly all communication was cutoff, as cell tower dishes were shaken out of kilter and power wires snapped, unbeknownst to these bewildered brothers.

Fathers Cyril, Emmanuel, Maneesh, Onesmus and Tetwigs heard mothers nearby screaming for their children to run faster.  Dogs barked, pigs squealed, and chickens cackled alarms.  Several men ran to the friars to make sure they were safe.  Nothing seemed to make sense, and the senses didn't have the ability to process the strangeness and terror.

In less than ten minutes - that seemed like forever - all was still again.  The earth became solid.  Once again it was "terra firma", but the very confidence in its constant sureness was now shattered.

As dawn broke the devastation became clearer to the friars.  One side of the friary had dropped from its moorings, and the house was cracked in two, windows shattered, the porch twisted and crumpled.  Elevated tanks that gathered rain water for drinking were overturned and empty.  The statue of St. Francis lay in pieces, having been thrown from the grotto that was now in ruin.

Disoriented by the chaos of their own little world, news spread that people were trapped in landslides.  The Capuchin missionaries suddenly realized their losses were insignificant.  They ran to help.

Capuchin Bishop Don Lippert reports that parts of roads and highways tumbled to the valleys below or were overwhelmed by massive landslides, making relief access impossible.  Airport runways were demolished.  Helicopters were the only way in and out.

Within 36 hours many cell towers were restored and communication was re-established.  Photos started to arrive and stories of terror were shared with the outside world.

Although missionary buildings have been damaged, even destroyed, word was sent that no one was badly injured.  Many people, including priests, brothers and sisters, and lay missionaries who live on the diocesan mission compound; all were safe.  Thanks be to God!