Over 2,000 Buried in Papau New Guinean Village Landslide

 May 28, 2024

A catastrophic landslide has claimed the lives of over 2,000 people in a remote village in Papua New Guinea.

This devastating natural disaster occurred last Friday and has drawn international attention and assistance, as reported by the local disaster agency, The Guardian.

The Papua New Guinea National Disaster Center first reported the incident, which has been tirelessly working to coordinate rescue and relief efforts despite numerous challenges. The primary difficulties cited were the unstable terrain, remote location, and severely damaged access roads.

Responding emergency teams, including defense personnel from Papua New Guinea, faced critical delays due to logistic challenges on Monday. Notably, the essential heavy rescue equipment has yet to be delivered to the affected site, accessible only by helicopter due to obstructed roads.

International Response to the Disaster

Amid the unfolding crisis, the Papua New Guinea government has officially requested international assistance. The Australian government has pledged A$2.5 million to assist, including sending specific technical experts to provide crucial incident management support.

"The landslide buried more than 2,000 people alive, leading to significant destruction including to buildings and the economic backbone of the region," explained an official from the disaster center in a communication to the United Nations. This marked a dramatic increase in the initial death toll estimate, which was previously reported as 670.

The remote location of the affected village in Enga province complicates the efforts. About 1,250 residents have been displaced, and with 150 houses wholly buried and another 250 abandoned, the scale of devastation is immense, according to Justine McMahon, Director at CARE International Papua New Guinea.

Locals Rally Amidst the Rubble

Some affected have resorted to digging through the debris with essential tools and their bare hands, a dangerous endeavor as the land remains highly unstable with continuing threats of further landslides. Local media have captured poignant scenes of these efforts, with social media videos showing the intense emotional and physical toll on the villagers.

Miok Ala, a resident of Enga province, described the unsafe conditions to the Guardian: "The ground is still unstable and the risk is high. Locals are taking the risk and digging down 4 to 5 meters with sticks and spades." In a sequence that underscores the dire circumstances yet offers a glimmer of hope, one couple, Johnson and Jacklyn Yandam, were dramatically rescued after being trapped under rubble for nearly eight hours.

"We thank God for saving our lives at that moment. We were certain that we were going to die, but the big rocks didn't crush us. It's hard to explain as we got trapped for nearly eight hours and then rescued. We believe we were saved for a purpose," shared the Yandams, expressing profound gratitude for their unexpected survival.

Ongoing Regional Challenges

In addition to natural obstacles, tribal violence in the area has intensified the challenge, complicating the safe passage of rescue teams. The UN agency reported that a recent outbreak led to multiple deaths and significant property damage, further straining the security situation.

The incident also exposed the vulnerability of local infrastructure; the landslide destroyed a section of the highway near the Porgera gold mine and dramatically illustrated the broader impacts on the region's economy and its people.

As recovery efforts continue, the international community, led by organizations like the United Nations and countries such as Australia, remains committed to supporting the affected communities. This tragic event highlights the resilience and courage of the local population and the pressing need for enhanced disaster preparedness and response strategies in similar remote communities worldwide.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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