Only coconut trees remain in ravaged villages in Papua New Guinea

AITAPE, Papua New Guinea (AP) — The wave higher than the coconut trees it crashed into swept away three villages on Papua New Guinea’s northwest coast, turning flimsily built homes into matchsticks. The death toll by Sunday was at least 599, but could rise to more than 1,000.
Across the Sissano lagoon Sunday, the beaches where a number of villages used to be built were washed away, and the lagoon was filled with debris, coconut palms and the remains of houses.
The 23-foot wall of water known as a tsunami hit the southwest Pacific island nation without warning late Friday following a magnitude-7 earthquake about 18 miles off the coast.
Scores of children were among the dead. Hundreds of people were injured and were awaiting urgent medical help, while others were believed to have fled to higher ground in the interior. An estimated 6,000 people were left homeless.
Papua New Guinea, with a population of 4 million, occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. It has a mountainous, jungle-filled interior that has only been explored in the past 20 to 30 years, along with lush tropical beaches on the coastal plains. The capital, Port Moresby, is about 375 miles east of Australia.
The tsunami struck west of the town of Aitape in West Sepik province, hitting villages about 370 miles northwest of Port Moresby.
District disaster coordinating chairman Dickson Dalle said the Nimas village near the Sissano lagoon, the Warapu village and the Arop village were wiped out and the Malol village suffered severe damage.
Dalle said the latest death toll was 599, including 500 people confirmed dead at Warapu. But he said the figure could increase as more bodies were found, and it was impossible to say how many were missing.
Australian aid officials in Papua New Guinea estimated the death toll would climb to more than 1,000, with many thousands injured, Australian Defense Minister Ian McLachlan said.