24 May 2024, 23:12

Massive landslide hits Papua New Guinea, many feared dead

          PORT MORESBY, May  24, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - A massive landslide struck remote
villages in Papua New Guinea's highlands Friday, with many homes buried and
scores of residents feared dead.

       The disaster hit an isolated part of Enga province at around 3:00 am local
time, according to government officials, when many villagers were at home

       Provincial governor Peter Ipatas told AFP that "there has been a big
landslide causing loss of life and property".

       He later said "six villages" had been affected and described it as an
"unprecedented natural disaster".

       Three bodies have so far been recovered, but there are fears that hundreds
more may be entombed. The true toll may take days or weeks to become clear.

       Steven Kandai, a community leader at the scene, told AFP that many
residents had no time to flee.

       "All of a sudden there was a big landslip. The mountain just collapsed all
of a sudden while people were still sleeping," he said, adding their homes were
"completely buried".

       Others "heard a huge sound from rocks falling down and then escaped. But
some went to escape, on their way they were killed by falling trees, rolling
rocks", he said.

       Images showed a scene of total devastation, with a vast bite of earth
cleaved from densely vegetated Mount Mungalo.

       The landslide left a vast brown scar of car-size boulders, felled trees and
dirt that stretched down toward the valley floor.

       The twisted remains of corrugated tin shelters and an overturned minibus
could be seen at the foot of rubble.

       Dozens of local men and women scrambled over the piles of rock and soil,
digging, crying out, listening for survivors or scanning the scene in disbelief.

       Some became instant rescuers, donning wellington boots, strapping on head
torches, picking up machetes and long-handled axes to help clear the rubble.

       Children could be heard crying as their mothers clambered over the rocks in
search of loved ones.

       - Unknown toll -
       Near dusk on Friday, rescuers were using a mechanical digger and hand tools
to try to unearth any survivors.

       A rapid response team of medics, military, police, engineers and UN agency
personnel has been dispatched to the area.

       Hospitals, health workers, relief agencies and government personnel across
the region have been placed on an "active state of alertness".

       Prime Minister James Marape said the team would be there to help with
"relief work, (the) recovery of bodies, and reconstruction of infrastructure."

       "I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their
lives" he said.

       Vincent Pyati, president of the local Community Development Association,
told AFP the "landslide hit around three last night and it looks like more than
100 houses got buried."

       "It is not yet known how many people were in those houses. The number of
victims is unknown."

       Nickson Pakea, president of the nearby Porgera Chamber of Commerce and
Industry, said there are fears that up to 300 people may have been there at the
time, a number that could not be confirmed.

       Aid agencies including the Papua New Guinea Red Cross and CARE said they
were on standby and working to find out more.

       Red Cross PNG interim secretary general Janet Philemon told AFP the
landslide location was remote and that it could take up to two days for
emergency services or aid to reach the area.

       The nearest highway, which runs to the gold mining town of Porgera, was
blocked, complicating relief efforts.

       Papua New Guinea's National Disaster Management Office did not immediately
give a toll.

       The Red Cross estimates the number of injured or dead could be between 100
and 500. But Philemon said she was "trying to get a clearer picture of what the
situation is."

       The agency was ready to offer first aid, blankets and non-food items to
those affected.

       "There is no indication of an earthquake or anything that may have
triggered (this event). It is a gold mining area and people may have been gold
mining on that mountain," she said.

       Otherwise, the landslide may have been caused by heavy rain, Philemon

       Sitting just south of the equator, the area gets frequent heavy rains.
       This year has seen intense rainfall and flooding.

       Community leader Kandai said villagers had been fearful since a smaller
landslide struck the same area earlier this year but "they don't have any place
to move to".

       In March, at least 23 people were killed by a landslide in a nearby

       "The loss of life and destruction is devastating," Australian foreign
minister Penny Wong said, adding that her government "stands ready to assist in
relief and recovery efforts".



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