Hope diminishes for survivors as Papua New Guinea reports 2,000 people buried alive in landslide

More than 2,000 lives are feared lost in a devastating landslide on a mountainside in Papua New Guinea. However, search and rescue teams are facing significant challenges in accessing the area to provide assistance.

In a letter addressed to the United Nations resident coordinator on Sunday, Luseta Laso Mana, the acting director of the National Disaster Centre in the South Pacific island nation, revealed that the landslide at Yambali village in the Enga province had tragically buried over 2,000 individuals alive. This devastating event has also resulted in significant destruction.

The ongoing rain, the swift flow of water, and the unstable ground pose significant challenges for rescue officials attempting to locate survivors in the muddy terrain.

The landslide swept through Yambali village in the northern part of the country around 3 a.m. on Friday, catching most of the villagers off guard as they were asleep in their homes.

Residents in the area have been startled by the sound of screams emanating from beneath the ground. This eerie phenomenon began after a massive amount of debris, reaching heights of almost two storeys, buried over 150 houses in the vicinity.

According to Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the UN migration agency mission in Papua New Guinea, the chances of finding survivors are diminishing as more than three days have passed since the landslide occurred.

According to him, it seems that people are beginning to understand that the likelihood of anyone surviving is very low.

Residents in the remote location are relying on their bare hands, spades, and sticks to excavate the debris and rescue survivors. The arrival of heavy equipment and other aid has been delayed, leaving them with no choice but to use these basic tools.

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The village struggles with unreliable mobile phone reception and a shortage of electricity, which hinders communication with other areas of Papua New Guinea.

Local tribal conflicts have also had a significant impact on the transportation of humanitarian aid workers in the region. To ensure their safety, they are accompanied by soldiers on their way to the landslide-affected area and are then brought back to the provincial capital, which is approximately 60km away, under the cover of darkness.

According to a UN official, the first excavator arrived at the impacted location on Sunday evening. So far, six bodies have been recovered.

“It’s a chaotic situation,” expressed Matthew Hewitt Tapus, a pastor residing in Port Moresby, who hails from a village located 20km away from the landslide. He emphasized that due to the scattered nature of the community, fathers are unaware of their children’s whereabouts, and mothers are left in the dark about the location of their husbands.

According to the UN, there is a concern that the soil and debris may undergo further shifting, prompting officials to advise the evacuation of over 250 homes in the affected area.

Around 1,250 individuals have already been forced to leave their homes due to the occurrence of landslides.

The latest death toll in the incident, as reported by the UN, remains at over 670 people. It is important to note that the discrepancy in the toll could be attributed to the challenges of accurately estimating the population in the remote location. Papua New Guinea’s last reliable census was conducted in 2000, and considering the large number of individuals residing in isolated mountainous villages, obtaining an accurate count can be difficult.

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Mr. Aktoprak stated that they cannot refute the government’s claims, but they are unable to provide any further comment on the matter.

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