Survivors of Papua New Guinea landslide say they heard two loud cracks before mountainside fell on village

By Papua New Guinea correspondent Marian Faa and Theckla Gunga in Mulitaka, ABC News

Survivors of a colossal landslide in Papua New Guinea’s highlands have spoken about the warning signs they noticed hours before it flattened a village, killing upwards of 160 people.

Locals who managed to escape the fatal rockfall at Mulitaka in Enga Province told the ABC they heard two loud cracks around 1am and 2am before the side of a large mountain gave way shortly afterwards.

Rocky Peter, 24, said he woke up when he heard the noise and tried to wake others.

“A rock has rolled down from the mountain up there, and there was a big bang … we came out of our houses and were calling others to wake up. Most people were still asleep,” he said.

“For those of us who heard the sound, we were able to escape. But the ones who didn’t hear were buried in their sleep.”

The exact cause of the landslide remains unclear.

Australia and New Zealand have sent technical experts to investigate the site and provide advice on the risk of further landslides.

Villagers have been attempting to recover loved ones with their bare hands.

At the site, locals continue to clamber over a vast expanse of boulders, carrying goods from one side of the blocked highway to the other.

Houses are collapsed, trees are strewn across the ground and the sombre mood is occasionally broken by a distant shout or laugh.

Young children hop over trickling streams of muddy water, taking in the unfathomable scene with wide eyes.

More than a week after the disaster, people continue to use shovels and sticks to dig for loved ones, saying they have not given up hope of recovering bodies.

Wende Wamblip Jr said he lost five relatives, four of whom have been recovered from the rubble.

But his young daughter still has not been found.

In this image supplied by the International Organization for Migration, villagers search amongst the debris from a landslide in the village of Yambali in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, May 27, 2024. (Mohamud Omer/International Organization for Migration via AP)

“My child remains buried. I am exhausted and I am resting today. But tomorrow I will continue to dig with a crowbar and spade,” he said.

He said time was running out, fearing that individuals would become more difficult to identify.

Pleas for heavy machinery to assist with the recovery seem not to have been answered, with no sign of excavators or diggers being sent to the site.

Visiting the disaster zone on Friday, PNG Prime Minister James Marape promised help but said the unstable ground made conditions dangerous.

“From reports we received on engineering and seismic reports, the earth is still moving,” Mr Marape said.

“That’s why [we] haven’t moved in with machinery, in case it triggers another landslide.”

The PNG government has revised its expected death toll for the landslide to 670, having previously stated up to 2,000 lives could have been lost.

An aerial view of the landslide in Yambali village, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Monday, 27 May, 2024. Authorities fear a second landslide and a disease outbreak are looming at the scene of Papua New Guinea's recent mass-casualty disaster.

Locals on the ground said it was difficult to know exactly how many people were in the village when the landslide hit, because many were visiting, including people who had been at a pub.

Some said they expected about 160 or more lives had been lost.

Wamblip said the tragedy has been difficult to come to terms with.

“I am confused. I have lost my house and my land has been destroyed,” he said.

“My concern is [getting] a new land where I can resettle my family. When you have a land you build a home, you have clothes.”

Supplies of food and water are being delivered to the area, and a care centre has been established about five minutes from the disaster site to house people who have lost their homes.

Villagers have been collecting donations on the side of the road to give to those who are digging – a sign of community spirit and resilience.

This story was originally published by ABC News.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

Related News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button