Papua New Guinea to End Search for Landslide Victims

Two weeks after a landslide leveled a remote community in Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province, search and rescue operations are about to end, amid indications that the disaster was less devastating than previously thought.

So far, nine bodies have been recovered, but crews have struggled to work through 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 about 3,000 people living near the site.

Geological experts from New Zealand have urged the authorities to evacuate a larger area because of 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 cease searching for bodies due to public health risks and the potential for new landslides, as the soil remains unstable,” the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, said in a statement late Wednesday. “The unrecovered bodies will be declared missing persons, and the landslide site will be designated a mass burial site with monuments 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 perished. 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 nonprofit that has been active for more than a decade, said that the toll may have been far lower.

“The exact number of people killed is not known but estimated by local community leaders to be between 200 and 600,” G.T. Bustin, the president of the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation, said in a statement. “It will take quite some time to know the exact number of individuals missing due to the fact that many from the area could have been in different parts of the province or country at the time of the incident.”

Some experts said that it was hard to pinpoint a precise number of victims because of the difficulty in getting to the affected area, where the main highway remains blocked.

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

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

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

An electoral roll in 2022 estimated the region’s population at just under 4,000, although that did not account for people under 18, a United Nations official said last week.

The landslide happened at about 3 a.m. on May 24 in a remote section of Papua New Guinea’s highlands near Yambali village. 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 wasn’t clear how many people lived in Tuliparr.

Source link

Most Popular

To Top