the challenges facing rescuers as more than 200 feared dead


An Australian disaster response team was scheduled to arrive in PNG on Tuesday, which is Australia’s nearest neighbour. It will include a geohazard assessment team and drones to help map the site.

Here’s a look at some of the challenges facing rescuers:

Difficult access, restive population

The village of at least 4000, but believed to be substantially larger, is in a mountainous and forested part of PNG’s Enga province. It’s located alongside a winding highway to the town of Porgera and a mine that has produced billions of dollars of gold but whose security personnel have been accused by rights groups of abuses.

The highway was covered by the landslide, effectively cutting off Porgera and the other villages past Yambali from the provincial capital of Wabag, some 60 kilometres from where the disaster occurred.

Emergency responders have brought aid in from Wabag, but have had to make the final 200 meters of the journey by foot over the rubble-covered highway.

Rescuers using only shovels and picks attempted for more than two days to clear six to eight metres worth of debris covering an area the size of three or four football fields, until an excavator donated by a local builder arrived on Sunday.

Survivors have been hesitant to allow heavy machinery to be used, however, because they do not want the bodies of their relatives harmed, said Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the UN migration agency’s mission in PNG. The donated excavator was driven away on Monday, though it’s not clear whether that was related to locals’ objections or for another reason, he said.

Military engineers with additional heavy equipment are being transported to the disaster scene and are expected to arrive Tuesday or Wednesday.

Deadly local feuds are complicating the response

Longtime tribal warfare in Enga province has not relented despite the disaster, meaning that soldiers have had to provide security for the aid convoys heading toward Yambali.

At least 26 men were killed in an ambush in February, and eight more died in a clash between two rival clans on Saturday in a longstanding dispute that’s unrelated to the landslide. About 30 homes and five retail businesses were burned down in the fighting, officials said.

An injured person is carried on a stretcher to seek medical assistance after a landslide in Yambali village, PNG.

An injured person is carried on a stretcher to seek medical assistance after a landslide in Yambali village, PNG.Credit: IOM/AP

Convoys have only been able to travel by daylight due to the security risks and, with a two-hour drive each way, their time on site has been seriously restricted, Aktoprak said in a phone interview from Port Moresby, the country’s capital.

Approximately 25 people from the UN, other agencies and the military have been making the daily journey. On Monday, they reported seeing burning houses and men armed with machetes along the way, Aktoprak said.

Emergency crews also face the threat of an ongoing natural disaster as the earth continues to shift in the disaster zone.

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The debris is getting increasingly waterlogged from three streams covered by the landslide, making it dangerous to work on and increasing the possibility it could slide farther downhill. Communities below have already been evacuated, Aktoprak said.

“We have a situation that is getting worse and worse every moment,” he said.



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