June 18, 2024

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Government says more than 2,000 people are believed to have been buried alive in landslide in Papua New Guinea.

Government says more than 2,000 people are believed to have been buried alive in landslide in Papua New Guinea.

A Papua New Guinea government official told the United Nations that more than 2,000 people were believed to have been killed. He was buried alive in the landslide that occurred last Friday It formally requested international assistance.

The government figure is nearly three times as high UN estimates 670 He was killed in the landslide that occurred in the mountainous interior of the South Pacific island nation. Local authorities reported that the remains of only five people had been recovered as of Monday. It was not immediately clear why the number of six announced on Sunday was revised downward.

In a letter to the UN Resident Coordinator dated Sunday, the acting director of the country’s National Disaster Centre, Lucita Lasso Mana, said the landslide “buried more than 2,000 people alive” and caused “major devastation” in Yambali village in Enga province.

People gather at the site of a landslide in Inga Province, Papua New Guinea on May 24, 2024.

STR/AFP via Getty Images


The landslide caused “major destruction to buildings and food gardens and caused a major impact on the country’s economic lifeline,” the letter said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Casualty estimates have varied greatly since the disaster occurred, and it was not immediately clear how officials arrived at the number of those affected.

The International Organization for Migration, which works closely with the government and plays a leading role in the international response, did not change its death toll estimate of 670, released on Sunday, pending new evidence.

“We cannot object to what the government is proposing, but we cannot comment on it,” said Serhan Okprak, head of the UN migration agency’s mission in Papua New Guinea.

“As time goes by in such a huge project, the number will continue to fluctuate,” Oktorak added.

The death toll of 670 people was based on calculations by Yambali village and Enga district officials that the landslide buried more than 150 homes. The previous estimate was 60 homes.

The office of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape did not respond on Monday to a request for clarification on what the government’s estimate of 2,000 people was based on. Marape promised to publish information about the extent of the destruction and loss of life when it becomes available.

Local residents look on May 25, 2024 at a demolished house at the site of a landslide that occurred the previous day in Inga Province, Papua New Guinea.

STR/AFP via Getty Images


It is difficult to determine the scale of the disaster due to difficult conditions on the ground, including the village’s remote location, lack of telecommunications, and tribal warfare throughout the governorate, which means international relief workers and aid convoys require military escort.

At least 26 tribal warriors and mercenaries were killed in a battle between two warring tribes in Inga in February, as well as an unconfirmed number of bystanders.

The national government’s lack of reliable census data adds to the challenges of determining potential death tolls.

The government estimates Papua New Guinea’s population at about 10 million, although a UN study, based on data including satellite images of rooftops, estimated in 2022 that number could reach 17 million. An accurate census has not been conducted in the country for decades.

The landslide also buried a 200-metre (650 ft) section of the province’s main highway under rubble 6 to 8 meters (20 to 26 ft) deep, creating a major obstacle for relief workers.

Mana said the landslide will have a major economic impact on the entire country.

Family members of missing villagers are seen on May 26, 2024 at the site of a landslide three days earlier in Inga Province, Papua New Guinea.

STR/AFP via Getty Images


The excavator donated by a local construction worker on Sunday became the first piece of heavy earth-moving machinery brought in to help villagers who were digging with shovels and agricultural implements to find the bodies. Working around still shifting debris is treacherous.

Mana wrote to the United Nations that “the situation remains unstable” due to shifting terrain, “which poses a continuing danger to rescue teams and survivors alike.”

Mana and Papua New Guinea Defense Minister Billy Joseph traveled on Sunday aboard an Australian military helicopter from the capital, Port Moresby, to Yambali, 600 kilometers to the northwest, to get a first-hand view of what is needed.

Mana’s office posted a photo of him in Yambale handing a local official a check for 500,000 kina ($130,000) to buy emergency supplies for 4,000 displaced survivors.

The purpose of the visit was to determine whether the PNG government needed to formally request more international support.

Earth-moving equipment used by the Papua New Guinea army was transported to the disaster site, 250 miles from the city of Lae on the east coast.

Traumatized villagers are divided over whether heavy machinery should be allowed to dig, which could further damage the bodies of their buried relatives, officials said.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said his officials had been speaking with their counterparts in Papua New Guinea since Friday when the landslide occurred.

“The exact nature of the support we are providing will emerge over the coming days,” Marles told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“We obviously have the airlift capacity to take people there. There may be other equipment that we can use in terms of search and rescue operations (and other things)… which we are talking about with Papua New Guinea now,” he added. Marls added.

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