In Papua New Guinea, “the situation is dramatic” after a landslide of unprecedented magnitude


Near the site of a landslide, in Mulitaka district, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, May 26, 2024. STR / AFP

For now, alone “five bodies and one leg” were found under the gigantic landslide which engulfed a village in north-western Papua New Guinea on the morning of Friday May 24. But the government of this island state in Oceania announced on Monday May 27 that more than 2,000 people could have been buried alive. The day before, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a branch of the UN, had put forward a probable death toll of 670 victims. Surprised in their sleep at 3 a.m., most of the residents of the village of Yambali, in Enga province, did not have time to flee.

On Saturday, local authorities reported only seven injured, including a child, treated by emergency services. Around 150 houses and two dispensaries were buried. Six other villages were affected. The heavy rains of recent weeks are the probable cause of the disaster. The government appealed for international aid. The former Australian settler, one of Papua New Guinea’s closest neighbors, announced that he was preparing to send humanitarian aid.

On Sunday, rescuers were seeking to evacuate 1,250 survivors to safer areas, as sections of hills continued to collapse. Landslides tend to propagate: once an area is destabilized, neighboring lands can also be swept away. “We have warned local populations, who are searching for their loved ones, to be very careful,” testifies, from the capital Port Moresby, Maki Igarashi, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in Papua New Guinea.

“Situation is dramatic”

Papuans are used to volcanic eruptions, but, to my knowledge, this is the first time that the country has faced a landslide of this magnitude and with so many victims. The situation is dramatic », judges the humanitarian. The organization has 150 volunteers based in the Highlands region, “ready to intervene, as soon as possible, to provide basic necessities such as blankets, hygiene kits and even water jerrycans”specifies Maki Igarashi contacted Monday morning.

On site, rescuers now have little hope of finding survivors, buried under 6 to 8 meters of mud. “People are coming to terms with this catastrophe, it is time for mourning and affliction”Serhan Aktoprak, head of the IOM mission in this South Pacific island country, said on Sunday, quoted by the Associated Press agency.

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