Preparations underway for recovery of landslide bodies

News and Press Release
Originally published
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Updated January 26, 2012 11:19:03

Emergency authorities in Papua New Guinea face the difficult task of moving the side of a mountain that crashed into a valley near Tari in the Southern Highlands.

It is impossible to estimate the number of lives claimed by Tuesday morning's landslide.

Continuing wet weather is also likely to hamper search and rescue efforts.

Presenter:Sen Lam

Speaker:Andrew Alphonse, senior reporter, PNG Post Courier

Listen: Windows Media

ALPHONSE: The local police and authorities in Tari are yet to confirm the exact number of casualties or the deaths, the number of people buried under the debris and the landslide. The locals themselves have come out with about 26 names of people, relatives that they've lost that they believe are buried. These names were presented to the Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill when he visited the site this afternoon.

LAM: And Andrew you spent the day at the site of the landslide. Can you tell us what you saw?

ALPHONSE: It is so huge, it will take quite some time before any of the debris can be removed or bodies can be found because it is huge slabs of limestone and there's a river flowing underneath, there are trees uprooted. It's about two kilometres long, it's about four to 500 metres wide and it has all covered about 25 homes. And that place at Hides Nogoli is the proposed site of the PNG LNG conditioning plant.

LAM: And as you said the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill also inspected the area today. What did he have to say?

ALPHONSE: He expressed his sorrow to the people and the locals there who had lost their loved ones. He said it was one of the worst disasters in this part of the country. He said the government will be responsible, it's going to do what it can to bring normalcy back to the area and get things return to normal. He wants to see that normalcy returns as soon as possible. The government he says will be meeting tomorrow as an emergency National Excutive Council meeting where he will be updating his cabinet and they'll be looking for ways to get some money and assist in the retrieving the bodies. And Mr O'Neill said that he would also order an independent investigation to establish the cause of the landslide, because the locals are blaming the development of the ?? nearby that may have caused the land around and slope to come down.

LAM: And Andrew what about rescue and recovery? Have any survivors been found in the debris so far?

ALPHONSE: There have been no survivors found. And they have not retrieved any bodies, nor done any rescue operations. As soon it happened Exxon Mobil decided to go into the area to see if they could find ways to save some lives or retrieve bodies, but locals there reacted that they said would not allow them in. Actually Mobil wanted to help in the rescue, as soon as the landslip occurred the locals would not allow them to go there.

LAM: We heard last night that many of those trapped by the deluge were children. Do you know why there were so many children?

ALPHONSE: The children live with their parents and they have moved to that area, school starts in the next few weeks. Also the parents I'm told, the locals told me that the parents went to work, they wake up around five and six and they go to work at the project site. There's a pickup truck that comes and takes them so, when they're on the truck the children were left behind to sleep, It was still dark. Officials the rescue operators have not commenced yet, they may commence on Friday to try reaching the bodies.

LAM: Andrew are you saying then that the local authorities are not even trying to see if there any survivors because the situation is so grave and it's so difficult?

ALPHONSE: Exactly. Now the engineers and the National Disaster and Emergency team from Port Moresby, they have moved to Tari and they will access the site around there and then officials will then do some studies on how they can go about to dig up the bodies and then excavate with machines. So Woodside Exxon Mobil will be able to help, and they can be able to start work. It is such a huge task.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation