Massive landslide hits Papua New Guinea, many feared dead

Massive landslide hits Papua New Guinea, many feared dead
Massive landslide hits Papua New Guinea, many feared dead

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A massive landslide struck six villages in Papua New Guinea’s highlands today, local officials said, with many homes believed to be buried and scores of villagers feared dead. — AFP pic

PORT MORESBY, May 24 — A massive landslide struck six villages in Papua New Guinea’s highlands today, local officials said, with many homes believed to be buried and scores of villagers feared dead.

The disaster hit a remote part of Enga province at around 3.00am local time, when many villagers were at home asleep.

Provincial governor Peter Ipatas told AFP that “there has been a big landslide causing loss of life and property” amid unconfirmed reports that hundreds may be buried.

He later said that “more than six villages” had been hit, describing the scene as an “unprecedented natural disaster” that had caused “substantial damages”.

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A rapid response team of medics, military, police and UN agencies have been dispatched to the area to assess the damage and help the wounded.

Images from the scene showed a vast bite of rock and soil cleaved from densely vegetated Mount Mungalo.

The slide left a wide scar of car-size boulders, felled trees and dirt that stretched down far toward the valley floor.

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The remains of many corrugated tin shelters 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.

Houses buried

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

As they moved around, children carried on their mother’s backs could be heard crying.

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

“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 in the village at the time, a number that could not be confirmed.

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

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 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 on standby 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 suggested.

Sitting just south of the equator, the area gets frequent heavy rains.

This year has seen intense rainfall and flooding.

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

The Australian government said it was “making enquiries with local authorities to determine whether any Australians have been affected.”

“The Australian Government offers its sympathies to those affected by landslides in Papua New Guinea.” — AFP

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