Landslide in Papua New Guinea: they believe there are 2,000 buried, but they were only able to recover six bodies and are asking for help

Landslide in Papua New Guinea: they believe there are 2,000 buried, but they were only able to recover six bodies and are asking for help

Authorities fear a second landslide and infectious outbreak loom at the site of the massive disaster in Papua New Guinea because bodies and streams were buried under tons of debris that leveled a village, a U.N. official said Tuesday.

A mass of rocks, dirt and broken trees devastated the town of Yambali, in the remote highlands of the South Pacific island nation, when a limestone hillside broke away on Friday. The blanket of debris has become more unstable due to recent rains and streams that have become trapped between the soil and the debris, said Serhan Aktoprak, director of the International Organization for Migration mission in Papua New Guinea.

That United Nations agency has officials on the ground in Enga province helping to house 1,600 displaced people. The agency estimates that 670 residents died, while the Papua New Guinea government has told the UN that it believes more than 2,000 people were buried.. Six bodies had been pulled from the rubble by Tuesday, according to a United Nations statement.

“We are hearing assumptions that another landslide could occur and perhaps 8,000 people may need to be evacuated,” Aktoprak told The Associated Press.

Authorities estimate that there are more than 2,000 people buried in mud, rocks and debris.

“This is a big concern. The movement of the earth, the debris, is causing a serious risk and in sum, the total number of people who could be affected could be 6,000 or more,” she explained. That includes villagers whose drinking water source has been buried and subsistence farmers who lost their gardens.

“If this mass of debris does not stop, if it continues moving, it can gain speed and continue to overwhelm other communities and towns down the mountain”Aktoprak said.

A later UN statement estimated the affected population at 7,849 people, including people who may need evacuation or relocation. 42% of them were under 16 years old, the UN added.

Scenes of neighbors digging with their bare hands through rubble and mud to search for the remains of their relatives were also a cause for concern.

“My biggest fear right now is that the corpses are decomposing (…) the water is flowing and this is going to pose serious health risks in relation to contagious diseases”Aktoprak said.

Aktoprak's agency was scheduled to voice those concerns Tuesday at a virtual disaster management meeting with national and international rescuers.

Tragedy in Papua New Guinea: they estimate more than 2,000 dead

Geotechnical experts and heavy earth moving equipment were expected to arrive on site soon.

The government of Papua New Guinea officially asked the United Nations on Sunday for international help and to coordinate contributions from different countries.

An Australian disaster response team arrived in Papua New Guinea, which is Australia's closest neighbor, on Tuesday. The team includes experts in geohazard analysis and drones to help map the site.

“Their role will be in particular to help do geotechnical monitoring to establish the extent of the slide, the instability of the land there, obviously do some work in terms of identifying where there are bodies,” explained Murray Watt, Australian disaster management minister. .

The Australian government has offered long-term logistical support to clear debris, recover bodies and support displaced people. The government announced an initial aid package of 2.5 million Australian dollars ($1.7 million).

The earth-moving equipment operated by Papua New Guinea's military was expected to arrive soon, having traveled from the city of Lae, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east, said Justine McMahon, country director for the humanitarian agency CARE. International.

He Landslide covered a 200-meter (650-foot) stretch of the province's main highway. But the highway had been cleared from Yambali to the provincial capital, Wabag, via Lae, authorities in Enga said Tuesday.

“One of the complicating factors was the destruction of parts of the road, as well as the instability of the ground, but they have some confidence that they will be able to carry the heavy equipment today,” McMahon said Tuesday.

An excavator donated by a local builder on Sunday became the first piece of heavy machinery to arrive to help residents, who were digging with shovels and farm tools in search of bodies.

Devastated and frustrated, Yambali resident Evit Kambu thanked those trying to find her missing relatives.

“I have 18 members of my family buried under the remains and the dirt that I am standing on,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. through an interpreter.

“But I can't get the bodies back, so I'm standing here helplessly,” she added.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said an Australian air force plane was carrying supplies to Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby. Two other planes were already in the city, which is 600 kilometers (370 miles) southeast of the razed town.

“There is more we want to do, but to be honest, part of the issue is not to overwhelm a system that is already under a lot of pressure,” Marles told Parliament.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation with 800 languages ​​and 10 million people, mostly subsistence farmers.

(with information from AP)