On the morning of Friday, March 24, a large fire broke out in a shopping centre only 50 metres from The Salvation Army's territorial headquarters (THQ) compound in Port Moresby. The situation quickly turned ugly, with fights breaking out between the police and looters. At some points, with crowds numbered in the thousands, police were forced to use tear gas and live ammunition.
Territorial Commander Colonel Kelvin Alley reports: "It was devastating to watch helplessly while the medical centre succumbed to the flames, the dental surgery and the pharmacy - all vital services to the people of Port Moresby. All razed to the ground. A number of decent businesses also, all gone along with the many hundreds of jobs and livelihoods for business owners and employees."
Measures were quickly put in place by Colonel Julie Alley to evacuate the 800 children from the school that forms part of the compound. Most of the THQ staff also left through an exit at the rear of the building, leaving only the senior leadership and security personnel in place to protect the site. Writing to International Headquarters later in the day, Colonel Alley said: "The place was full of smoke and remains of tear gas."
The situation calmed down in the afternoon, when all THQ staff were able to head home. The colonel concluded: "Please be assured we are okay, and The Salvation Army here has done well today."
Speaking later to a reporter from The Guardian, Colonel Alley gave assurances that The Salvation Army is committed to supporting the community to rebuild.