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 in a statement that the difficult terrain and damage to main roads complicated their journey to the area.

“The ground continues to slide and move, and this makes it dangerous for people to work,” Serhan Okprak, a UN official, told AFP.

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).

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

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the highway leading to the area was closed, making helicopters the only way to reach the area.

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.

Image source, Getty Images

Image source, Getty Images

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

“Although the area is not densely populated, our concern is that the death toll may be disproportionately high,” CARE Australia said in a previous statement.

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

The Guardian newspaper quoted Akeem as saying that rescue efforts were hampered by the blockage of the road linking the affected village of Yambali to the capital.

Yambali is located about 50 kilometers (31 mi) from Wabag, the provincial capital.

Speaking to the Associated Press news agency, Oktrak, who is the head of the UN’s International Organization for Migration mission in Papua New Guinea, said the area affected by the landslide was the size of three to four football fields.

He added that Yambali village is home to 3,895 people.

Oktobrak 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.

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.”

“There is no house left”

A resident of a nearby village said that when he arrived at the scene, “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 by road 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.

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