Rain hinders PNG landslide rescue effort

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

By PNG correspondent Liam Fox

Updated January 26, 2012 08:32:54

Video: Dozens feared dead in PNG landslide (7pm TV News NSW)

Wet weather is hampering rescue efforts at the site of a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea where up to 50 people are feared to have been killed.

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

PNG prime minister Peter O'Neill has inspected the area, and says he hopes work to clear the site and to retrieve the victims' bodies can begin tomorrow.

The National Disaster Centre assessment team also visited the area yesterday and is worried there could be more landslides in the area.

A source close to the team says people living in 20 houses might have to be relocated.

Locals have urged people to stay away, but so far that message has largely gone unheard.

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

Mr O'Neill told them an assistance package would be announced after a special cabinet meeting today.

He 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.

He also vowed to investigate the cause of the landslide.

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

Local MP Francis Potape 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.

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

Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Affairs Richard Marles says 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 set of circumstances," he said.

Meanwhile, resource giant Exxon Mobil says it is resuming work at a liquefied natural gas project after it was halted by the landslide.

Work on the gas plant and an airfield was halted after the landslide cut the area's main road, but the project's operator Esso Highlands says work at the two sites has resumed.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation