Papua New Guinea to end search for landslide victims

Two weeks after a landslide devastated a remote community in Enga province, Papua New Guinea, search and rescue operations are nearing completion, amid signs the disaster was less devastating than previously reported. I thought previously.

So far, nine bodies have been recovered, but crews have had difficulty working through the debris that covered an irregularly shaped area more than a third of a mile long. Aid workers have distributed food (rice, canned fish, cooking oil, sugar and salt) to around 3,000 people living near the site.

Geological experts in New Zealand have urged authorities to evacuate a wider area due to the risk of another landslide, a United Nations agency said, adding that the search for victims is scheduled to end on Friday.

“The provincial government will stop searching for bodies due to public health risks and the possibility of new landslides, as the ground remains unstable,” the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, said in a statement. released Wednesday night. “Unrecovered bodies will be declared missing persons and the site of the landslide will be designated a mass burial site and monuments will be erected.”

The true death toll from the landslide may never be known. Two days after the disaster, the United Nations estimated that about 670 people had died. Then came a much higher projection, from local officials, of more than 2,000 dead.

But on Wednesday, the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, a non-profit organization that has been active for more than a decade, said the number of victims could have been much lower.

“The exact number of people killed is unknown, but local community leaders estimate it to be between 200 and 600,” GT Bustin, president of the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, said in a statement. “It will take quite some time to know the exact number of people missing because many from the area could have been in different parts of the province or country at the time of the incident.”

Some experts said it was difficult to determine a precise number of victims because of the difficulty in reaching the affected area, where the main road remains blocked.

“Many hazard specialists rely on remotely sensed images to assess the situation, but data can take days to become available depending on the satellites used and the degree of cloud cover,” said Claire Dashwood, a landslide expert at the British Geological Survey. . in an email, referring to this type of disasters in general.

It was also not initially known how many people had been displaced, in part because it was not clear how many people lived in the area.

Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea noted that the area was close to the Porgera gold mine and was known for attracting people from elsewhere. “Many trade on the roadside on the way to the Porgera project,” he said, adding that authorities were working to determine how many were missing. He estimated that nearly 7,500 people would need to be permanently relocated.

A 2022 electoral census estimated the region’s population at just under 4,000 people, although that did not include people under 18, a United Nations official said last week.

The landslide occurred around 3am on May 24 in a remote section of the Papua New Guinea highlands, near the village of Yambali. Two nearby communities, Kaokolam and Tuliparr, were destroyed, said Ruth Kissam, a community organizer in the surrounding Enga province. Kaokolam had a population of less than 100, she said. It was unclear how many people lived in Tuliparr.

Leave a Comment