UN official opens up on odds of finding Papua New Guinea landslide survivors

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - It is now "very unlikely" that more victims of a deadly landslide in Papua New Guinea will be found alive, a UN official told AFP on Tuesday.

People clear an area at the site of a landslide in Yambali village, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.
People clear an area at the site of a landslide in Yambali village, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.  © UNDP Papua New Guinea/Handout via REUTERS

"It is not a rescue mission, it is a recovery mission," UNICEF Papua New Guinea's Niels Kraaier said. "It is very unlikely they will have survived."

Papua New Guinea says some 2,000 people are feared buried in a landslide that destroyed a remote highland community in the early hours of May 24.

With rescue and relief efforts hampered by the remote location, a severed road link, heavy rainfall, and nearby tribal violence, Enga provincial administrator Sandis Tsaka warned the disaster could yet worsen.

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About 7,900 people from remote villages are being evacuated, with the ground around the landslide still moving.

"The tragedy is still active," Tsaka said. "Every hour you can hear rock breaking – it is like a bomb or gunshot and the rocks keep falling down."

"This was an area heavily populated with homes, businesses, churches, and schools, it has been completely wiped out. It is the surface of the moon – it is just rocks," said Tsaka.

Aid delivery and recovery efforts continue in Papua New Guinea

Around 2,000 people are feared buried in a landslide that ravaged Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.
Around 2,000 people are feared buried in a landslide that ravaged Enga Province, Papua New Guinea.  © UNDP Papua New Guinea/Handout via REUTERS

UN Development Programme official Nicholas Booth said many people had refused to evacuate, holding out hope their loved ones would be found.

The immediate focus was the delivery of aid and clearing up the affected area, he told AFP.

In the long term, geological surveys would be needed to determine how many people would need to be permanently relocated, Booth said.

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"This landslide has blocked the road westward, so not only are there challenges in accessing the village itself, but it does mean the communities beyond that are also cut off."

The isolated communities, with as many as 30,000 people, had enough supplies for the coming weeks, but the situation could worsen in the coming months, Booth said.

Police and defense forces aim to reach the site on Tuesday and cordon off the most dangerous areas, officials noted.

Aid agencies are also trying to get in food, clean water, health supplies, and education resources.

Cover photo: UNDP Papua New Guinea/Handout via REUTERS

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