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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

More landslides feared at PNG disaster site

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea—Papua New Guinea authorities have warned there is a high risk of more landslides at the site of a recent deadly disaster, with government experts demanding the area be evacuated and declared a “no-go-zone”.

A draft internal report by Papua New Guinea’s mining and geohazards department, obtained by AFP on Tuesday, warns that the highland community where hundreds are feared to have died on May 24 needs to be urgently cleared of people.

“This area has to be declared a no-go-zone,” the report warns, citing a litany of risks from further landslips, teetering boulders and underground streams.

Stating that there is a “high likelihood of further landslides to occur in the immediate future”, the report concludes that “any access to the area should be restricted to experts”.

Rescue workers have already given up on finding any survivors in the 600 meter-long scar of soil, boulders and debris left by the landslide on Mount Mungalo, in central Papua New Guinea.

But 12 days after the disaster, locals are still digging through deep mud and hauling rocks in the hope of finding loved ones.

Now, geologists and other government experts are warning the recovery efforts could provoke another landslide, and the relocation of villagers should be “non-negotiable”.

In particular, there is concern that the use of recently arrived heavy machinery could topple boulders perched above.

“Movement or vibration from the machinery will set these boulders into motion,” the report warns.

Local authorities estimate 7,849 people live in two wards hit by the disaster.

An order to move them on would be fraught.

Local customs place great importance on recovering the bodies, and the area is prone to inter-tribal violence.

Any order to evacuate would be “highly sensitive and complex”, according to Justine McMahon from CARE Papua New Guinea.

“Because not only of people’s connection to country (land) but also because new people moving in has an impact on local dynamics,” she said.

Initial Papua New Guinea government estimates said as many as 2,000 people may have been buried last month, although local officials have more recently put the number in the hundreds.

Only nine bodies have been recovered, according to local health authorities.

Aid agencies have set up several tents around the landslide site to deliver first aid and food.

But full-scale rescue and relief efforts have been severely hampered by the site’s remote location, nearby tribal violence and landslide damage that has severed major road links.

CARE’s McMahon told AFP supplies were slowly making their way to the site, but concerns remained about ensuring access to clean and safe water.

“Water is a big concern because the landslide covered the communities’ main water source,” she said.

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions and landslides are extremely common in its highlands.

The government report, dated June 3, was carried out by a team of geologists, geo-engineers and geohazards experts.

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