New Guinea fears second landslide, disease out break


Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looking at the scene of Papua New Guinea’s mass-casualty disaster because of water streams and bodies trapped beneath the tons of debris that swept over a village, a United Nations official said Tuesday.

A mass of boulders, earth and splintered trees devastated Yambali in the South Pacific nation’s remote highlands when a limestone mountainside sheared away Friday.

The blanket of debris has become more unstable with recent rain and streams trapped between the ground and rubble, said Serhan Aktoprak, chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission in Papua New Guinea.

The U.N. agency has officials at the scene in Enga province helping shelter 1,600 displaced people.

The agency estimates 670 villagers died, while Papua New Guinea’s government has told the United Nations it thinks more than 2,000 people were buried.

Five bodies had been retrieved from the rubble by Monday.

Scenes of villagers digging with their bare hands through muddy debris in search of their relatives’ remains were also concerning.

The Papua New Guinea government on Sunday officially asked the United Nations for additional help and to coordinate contributions from other nations.

An Australian disaster response team was scheduled to arrive Tuesday in Papua New Guinea, which is Australia’s nearest neighbour.

It will include a geohazard assessment team and drones to help map the site.

Earth-moving equipment used by Papua New Guinea’s military was expected to arrive soon, after traveling from the city of Lae, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east, said Justine McMahon, country director of for humanitarian agency CARE International.

The landslide buried a 200-meter (650-foot) stretch of the province’s main highway.

An excavator donated by a local builder Sunday became the first piece of heavy earth-moving machinery brought in to help.

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


Africanews/Hauwa M.

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