Landslide in Papua New Guinea: Race to rescue trapped villagers

Video explanation, Papua New Guinea: Many fear they have been killed in a landslide

  • author, Malo Corcino
  • Role, BBC News

Emergency services are racing to reach villages hit by a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea’s isolated Inga province, where hundreds of people are feared dead.

Humanitarian agency CARE Australia said a rapid response team made up of medics and military personnel was able to reach the isolated landslide site.

She added that the difficult terrain and damage to main roads make rescue efforts difficult, as the highway has been closed and the area can only be accessed by helicopter.

The landslide buried hundreds of homes in the Inga Highlands, north of the island nation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, at around 03:00 local time on Friday (17:00 GMT on Thursday).

It is still unclear how many people are trapped under the rubble.

CARE Australia said 60 homes were destroyed, and “at present, all members of these families remain unaccounted for.”

Nearly 4,000 people live in the area where the landslide occurred.

But the agency warned that the number of those affected “is likely to be higher” due to the influx of people fleeing conflicts in neighboring areas.

She added that other villages may also be at risk “if the landslide continues down the mountain.”

Amos Akim, a member of parliament for Inga County, told The Guardian that based on reports from the ground, “the landslide buried more than 300 people and 1,182 homes.”

He added that rescue efforts were hampered by the blocked road linking the affected village of Yambali to the capital.

There is only one highway leading to Inga County. CARE Australia said the landslide caused debris up to 8 meters deep, affecting more than 200 square kilometers of land “including 150 meters of the main highway into Inga District.”

UN official Sirhan Oktoberak told the Associated Press news agency that the area affected by the landslide was the size of three to four football fields.

Oktoberak said some homes in the village survived the landslide, but “given the scale of the disaster” the death toll could be higher than 100 people.

Image source, Getty Images

Image source, Getty Images

The process of reaching those affected was complicated due to fears of the possibility of more landslides.

“The ground continues to slide and move, and this makes it dangerous for people to work,” Oktoberak told Agence France-Presse.

Residents of the surrounding areas described how trees and debris from the collapse of the mountainside buried parts of the community, leaving it isolated.

Footage from the scene shows local residents recovering bodies from under rubble and trees as they crossed terrain covered in giant boulders and uprooted trees.

“There is no house left”

A resident of a nearby village said that when he arrived at the site of the landslide, “there were no houses [left]”.

Speaking to Australia’s ABC, Dominic Lau said the ground was “flat with soil”.

“There was nothing, just rocks and soil… There were no people and there were no houses to be seen,” Lau added.

Inga Governor Peter Ipatas told AFP that up to “six villages” were affected by the landslide, which he described as an “unprecedented natural disaster.”

Inga is located more than 600 kilometers from the country’s capital, Port Moresby.

The Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society said earlier that an emergency response team made up of officials from the regional governor’s office, police, defense forces and local NGOs had been deployed to the site.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said on Friday that authorities were responding to the disaster.

He added that the government is working with local officials to provide “relief work, recover bodies and rebuild infrastructure.”

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