Call for PNG landslide help

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

PNG correspondent Liam Fox and staff

A former Papua New Guinea MP says the landslide in Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands is of a magnitude the nation hasn't seen before.

Sir Alfred Kaiabe says those displaced by the disaster will need food, emergency supplies and tents.

He told Radio Australia the PNG Government and overseas nations hopefully will provide funds for the people living in the area to be relocated.

He said there has been mass destruction caused by the landslide.

Quarry blamed

Locals in Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands have blamed blasting from nearby quarries for the devestating landslide which hit the area on Tuesday.

The landslide hit near an Exxon-Mobil liquefied natural gas project in the highlands.

Wet weather and the remoteness of the disaster zone has hampered rescue crews efforts.

PNG's Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill says he hopes salvage operations can begin as soon as possible.

But Andrew Alphonse, a senior reporter with the PNG Post Courier told Radio Australia the scale of the disaster will mean the clean-up is slow.

"It is so huge it will take quite some time before any of the rubbish any of the debris can be remove or any of the bodies can be found," he said.

Rescue effort

Rescue teams are arriving at the site of the deadly landslide, but continuing wet weather and fears of another landslide are hampering their efforts.

Tumbi village near Tari, in the country's Southern Highlands, is now a mess of millions of cubic metres of rock and soil.

The landslide area is about one kilometre long and several hundred metres wide. Some of the boulders dislodged are the size of cars.

Thousands of people have gathered at the site, many with mud smeared on their faces in a sign of mourning.

PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill has inspected the area and vowed to investigate the cause of the disaster.

Mr O'Neill said an independent team of investigators would be appointed to determine the cause and he promised to help relocate those affected and to find their loved ones.

'A huge task'

Andrew Alphonse, a senior reporter from the PNG Post Courier who spent the day at Tumbi village, says locals have named 26 people they believe have been buried underneath the landslide.

He told Radio Australia's Asia Pacific that operations to retrieve the bodies have not officially started because of the difficult conditions.

"The engineers and the National Emergency teams from Port Moresby, they've moved into Tari today, and they will access the site around there," he said.

"And then from there, they'll do some studies on how they can go about picking up the bodies, with excavators, machines or if Exxon-Mobil would be able to help, and then they can be able to finally start work. It is such a huge task."

Australian assistance

Local MP Francis Potape was also at the scene and said the devastation was widespread.

But he says it is too early to say how many people have died.

"You have a mother crying on the site, a father crying, people crying, those are the ones who are sure that their relatives are buried in there and have died," he said.

Dozens of people are feared dead.

Australia is sending two officials to the site to assess the amount of assistance Canberra will offer.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Affairs, Richard Marles, told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat Australia stands ready to help.

"The situation is obviously one that's urgent and we will be working through this as fast as we can so that we are in a position to provide what assistance we can for what is a very tragic sets of circumstances," he said.

LNG project resumes

The US oil giant Exxon-Mobil says work has resumed at its $US15 billion liquefied natural gas project near the landslide disaster.

A company spokeswoman says the one stoppage caused by the landslide is not expected to impact the schedule of the project.

Exxon-Mobil leads a consortium building the LNG project, located about seven kilometres from the landslide area.

It is PNG's biggest-ever resource undertaking due to come on stream in 2014.

The project is expected to produce 6.6 million tonnes of LNG per annum and could see GDP increase 20 per cent.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation