Houses burn for want of a hose | Pacific Beat

Houses burn for want of a hose

Houses burn for want of a hose

Updated 22 March 2012, 2:55 AEDT

The residents of Ebeye Island in the Marshall Islands are cleaning up after a fire destroyed homes and public buildings and displaced dozens of people.

After the capital Majuro, Ebeye is the second largest community in the Marshall Islands, with more than 10,000 residents. But a problem for Ebeye is that the island has no fire truck.

MACLELLAN: A house fire on Ebeye Island started on March 31 with an electrical fault, but it quickly swept through neighbouring buildings.

The fire destroyed houses, the government finance office and accommodation for nurses working at the local hospital. There were no casualties, but over 50 people have been relocated after their homes were destroyed.

Ebeye Mayor Johnny Lemari says that the clean-up is proceeding well.

LEMARI: The people who used to be living there has been displaced, now are living with their relatives and some of them are staying with the church.

It's been well taken care of as we speak - we still have some concrete and trees to be removed and clear the area.

MACLELLAN: Mayor Lemari says that Ebeye residents and local government staff used a back hoe to try and control the blaze, because of a lack of firefighting equipment.

LEMARI: No we don't have any fire truck, we have fire hydrants but some of the fire hydrants are not working.

They've not been used for some time - so nobody used those when the fire struck. We bail out the water from the water catchment, whatever and wherever we can get the water.

We used our equipment to try and save those houses but we couldn't.

MACLELLAN: Ebeye is one of the islands in Kwajalein Atoll, which hosts a major US military base. Ebeye residents travel by ferry each day to work at the US base on neighbouring Kwajalein Island, returning each night to their homes .

The US base is used for missile testing programs. The latest test of a missile interceptor from Kwajalein occurred just last month, in a series of tests costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

US military on Kwajalein sent fireman to assess the blaze and a fire truck to assist. Mayor Lemari welcomes the support, but says it's often too late in case of emergencies.


LEMARI: When they came in, it was already about 95 per cent of the fire is gone.

They brought some firemen and later on an ancient fire truck, but it was already too late.

We figured out that even though we notified them when the fire was started, it will take some time to prepare and bring it because they have to bring in a landing craft or something like that, because it's about a mile between here and Kwajalein.

We been having the same problem before, we've never had help from Kwajalein.

MACLELLAN: US military and civilian personnel on Kwajalein have raised US$6000 to assist people displaced by the fire, and now the local Kwajalein government is seeking assistance from Majuro to improve its firefighting capacity.

LEMARI: The Minister for Public Works and the Chief Secretary were visiting the island last week and we had a meeting with them.

They understand the problem but we've been asking them to provide a fire truck for the island, because even though we seldom do have fire, when it's struck it's a big disaster, it's a big problem.

So they acknowledge that and in our meeting they say they're going to bring in a fire truck as soon as possible and I expect it this week and if not then next week.

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