Papua New Guinea landslide: rescue convoy heads to remote village as scores feared buried

Estimated read time 4 min read

An emergency convoy is delivering food, water and other provisions on Saturday to stunned survivors of a landslide that devastated a remote village in the mountains of Papua New Guinea and is feared to have buried scores of people, officials have said.

An assessment team had reported “suggestions” that 100 people were dead and 60 houses buried by the mountainside that collapsed in Enga province a few hours before dawn on Friday, according to Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the International Organisation for Migration’s mission in the South Pacific island nation.

A convoy had left the provincial capital of Wabag carrying food, water and other essentials to the devastated village of Yambali 60km (35 miles) away, Aktoprak said.

The main road between Yambali and the capital, Port Moresby – 600km away – is blocked, hampering relief efforts.

People carry bags after a landslide hit Yambali village in PNG’s Enga provinceView image in fullscreen

Aktoprak conceded that if the number of buried houses estimated by local authorities was correct, the death toll could be higher.

“The scale is so big, I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be more casualties than the earlier reported 100,” Aktoprak said.

“If 60 houses had been destroyed, then the number of casualties would definitely be much higher than the 100.”

On Friday, a local MP, Amos Akem, said more than 300 people and 1,182 houses had been buried.

Robin Poko, the subdistrict’s station manager, said on Saturday that only four bodies had been recovered as of Friday night. He said rescuers needed hoses and pressure pumps to wash away dirt and stones as they searched for the dead but that there was little they could do.

The village was home to 3,998 people and it was still unclear how many were missing, he said.

Medical treatment had been provided to seven people, including a child, Aktoprak said. He had no information about the extent of their injuries.

“It is feared that the number of casualties and wounded will increase dramatically,” said Aktoprak, who is based in Port Moresby.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said his country stood “ready to assist” and that Australians were grieving “for our brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea after the terrible landslide”.

The US president, Joe Biden, also offered assistance and said that he and his wife, Jill, were “heartbroken by the loss of life and devastation”.

All food gardens that sustain the village’s subsistence farming population were destroyed and the three streams that provide drinking water were buried by the landslide, which also blocked the province’s main highway.

Village local Andrew Ruing said the survivors were in desperate need.

“People, they cannot cry or they cannot do anything because it’s difficult for them,” he said in a video shown by Australian broadcaster ABC.

“Because such a situation has never happened in history. And therefore we are calling on the national government, the people on the ground, or the business houses, the heights from everywhere, anywhere – we are seeking assistance from.”

Aktoprak said that besides food and water, the villagers had an urgent need for shelters and blankets. Relief would be targeted to the most vulnerable, including children, women, disabled people and the elderly, he said.

The relief effort was delayed by the landslide closing the province’s main highway, which serves the Porgera gold mine and the neighbouring town of Porgera.

The landslide debris of 6-8 metres deep also knocked out power in the region, Aktoprak said.

The unstable soil posed risks to the relief effort as well as to communities downhill.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation of mostly subsistence farmers with 800 languages. There are few roads outside the larger cities.

With 10 million people, it is the most populous South Pacific nation after Australia, which is home to about 27 million.

Rebecca Kuku is a reporter with the National, based in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Additional reporting by the Associated Press


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