Landslide clearing ongoing as reports of ‘trucks being looted’ surface in PNG

Recovery efforts are ongoing in Papua New Guinea’s Highlands and Northern Provinces which have experienced heavy flooding and landslides last week.

The National newspaper reported last week that there were at least 23 deaths, but that number is expected to increase, as reports continue to emerge of missing people yet to be found.

In the Gumene District, an entire family was reportedly buried in their home when heavy rains caused a landslide and are yet to be recovered.

Gumene District administrator Francis Dion Kil told RNZ Pacific that efforts are underway to locate and retrieve their bodies.

“They were inside their house, in their family house and are still buried,” Dion Kil said.

“The retrieving process begins will soon begin to remove the mud and locate the bodies.”

Information out of the Highlands is sketchy because of the remoteness of communities in the notoriously mountainous area.

In Wapenamanda District of Enga Province, a boy was reportedly swept by floods and yet to be found. A community leader in the area, Auqila Kunza, said crops have been destroyed and that families are food rationing.

Prime Minister James Marape told local media last week that specialist teams have been dispatched to assist communities.

Minister for Works and Highways Solan Miritim said the total cost of restoring infrastructure would cost over US$15 million.

“We have already taken steps to provide relief and address the situations through Government,” said Marape.

“These teams are tasked with assessing and addressing road slippages and blockages.”

‘Trucks being looted’

RNZ Pacific PNG correspondent Scott Waide said 21 people have been confirmed dead in the Highlands and that there were reports of thieves looting aid trucks which had been stalled along highways.

“At least two bridges that I know of have been washed away in the Madang Province so traffic has been hindered and there are crews on the ground to try to get temporary bridges up and running,” Waide said.

“Between Lae and Madang, there were instances of container trucks being looted because there were a lot of trucks parked along the highway and opportunists took advantage of them.”

Flooding and landslips are not uncommon when heavy rains occur in the PNG Highlands.

The mountainous terrain with many rivers, hills and steep valleys, makes it vulnerable to flooding and landslides. In 2020, a landslide engulfed an entire mining settlement, killing 13.

“There are many isolated pockets of people who live along mountain sides,” Waide said.

“It’s difficult to get information out because many places don’t have access to mobile phone communications – some have to walk for several hours before they can close enough to a mobile communications tower to send off a text message.

“When there is continuous rain for two weeks, you expect to have landslides, it’s a common occurrence.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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