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Thousands Ordered To Evacuate From Path Of Active Landslide In Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea government has ordered residents to evacuate from the path of the landslide in the Enga region

On Tuesday, the Papua New Guinea government ordered thousands of residents to evacuate from the path of an active landslide in the northern Enga region. The landslide, which struck on Friday, buried an estimated 2,000 people when parts of a mountain collapsed, creating a deadly cascade of rocks and debris.

Relief teams have been slowly making their way into the remote, difficult-to-access area, but officials have expressed that the chances of finding survivors are slim. The unstable conditions continue to pose significant risks, complicating rescue efforts.

Residents, armed with shovels and their bare hands, have been digging through the rubble in hopes of finding survivors. “The landslide area is very unstable. When we’re up there, we’re regularly hearing big explosions where the mountain is, there is still rocks and debris coming down,” said Sandis Tsaka, the chairperson of the Enga province disaster committee. He added, “The landslide is still active, as people are digging through the rocks, more is still coming down.”

A state of emergency has been declared across the disaster zone and a neighboring area, impacting a combined population of between 4,500 and 8,000 people. While not all residents have been ordered to evacuate yet, military personnel have set up checkpoints and are assisting with moving residents to evacuation centers.

The arrival of heavy equipment and aid has been delayed due to the remote location, treacherous terrain, and tribal unrest, necessitating military escorts for relief convoys.

The official government estimate indicates that over 2,000 people were buried by the landslide, a figure significantly higher than the United Nations’ initial estimate of 670 possible deaths. Former local government head Jiman Yandam provided a more conservative estimate of 162 dead. So far, only five bodies have been recovered.

The wide variance in death toll estimates underscores the challenges in obtaining accurate population counts in this mountainous region. Papua New Guinea’s last reliable census was conducted in 2000, and a 2022 voter roll does not include those under 18.

Tsaka refrained from providing a definitive death toll, acknowledging the uncertainty surrounding the number of residents present when the landslide occurred. “From preliminary estimates, we expect it to be a significant number, in the hundreds, and it could go beyond, but at this point we’d like to be careful with the number,” he said.

Melissa Enoch

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