Rescuers Arrive at Site of Deadly Landslide in Papua New Guinea Remote Highlands

Sat May 25 2024
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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea: Rescue teams arrived at the site of a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea’s remote highlands on Saturday, helping villagers search for hundreds of people feared dead under towering piles of rubble and mud.

The disaster struck an isolated part of Enga province around 3 a.m. on Friday while many villagers were sleeping at home, according to government officials.

“At the moment, we are still searching for bodies buried by the massive landslide,” said community leader Mark Ipuia, who feared “more than 300” villagers would be buried.

At least four bodies have so far been pulled from the wreckage, a United Nations official based in the capital Port Moresby told media on Saturday morning.

“There are a lot of houses under the rubble that cannot be reached,” said UN official Serhan Aktoprak, who estimates that up to 3,000 people call the hillside settlement home.

“The ground is still sliding and moving, so it’s a dangerous operation for people,” he added.

Aid agencies said the disaster effectively wiped out the village’s livestock, food gardens and sources of clean water.

A rapid response team made up of medics, the military and the police began streaming into the disaster area on Saturday morning, following a route complicated by rugged terrain and damage to major roads.

“Although the area is not densely populated, we fear that the death toll could be disproportionately high,” aid agency CARE said on Saturday as the first reinforcements arrived.

The images showed a scene of total devastation with a huge chunk of land cut off from the densely vegetated Mount Mungalo.

Barefoot workers used shovels, axes and improvised tools to loosen and shift the earth, while others dug through crushed piles of corrugated iron that had once provided shelter.

The landslide released car-sized boulders, trees and dirt that trailed down to the valley floor.

Volunteers dragged the covered body away from destruction on a makeshift stretcher.

Steven Kandai, a community leader at the scene, said that many residents did not have time to flee.

“Suddenly there was a big landslide. The mountain collapsed out of nowhere while people were still sleeping,” he said, adding that their houses were “completely buried”.

Dozens of local men and women scrambled over piles of rock and dirt, kicking, screaming, listening to survivors or just scanning the scene in disbelief.

The area lies south of the equator and is affected by frequent heavy rains.

In March, a landslide in a nearby province killed at least 23 people.

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