Papua New Guinea Seeks International Aid After Devastating Landslide
Papua New Guinea Seeks International Aid After Devastating Landslide

The government of Papua New Guinea has formally requested international assistance following a devastating landslide on Friday that officials say buried more than 2,000 people, a figure three times higher than earlier United Nations estimates.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press and addressed to the United Nations resident coordinator, the acting director of Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Center described the landslide as burying "more than 2000 people alive" and causing "major destruction."

The disaster struck Yambali village in Enga province, collapsing a mountainside and covering the area with tons of rubble equivalent to the size of three to four football fields. As of now, only six bodies have been recovered.

Australia has already mobilized to assist with aircraft and equipment to aid in search and rescue efforts. Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles stated that discussions have been ongoing with Papua New Guinea officials since Friday to determine the appropriate assistance required.

“We have airlift capacity to get people there. There may be other equipment that we can bring to bear in terms of the search and rescue, and all of that we are talking through with PNG right now," Marles told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Papua New Guinea, which gained independence from Australia in 1975, is Australia's closest neighbor and a significant recipient of Australian foreign aid. The two countries have been strengthening defense ties in response to growing regional influence from China.

The provincial capital of Wabag, located 60 kilometers (35 miles) from Yambali, experienced heavy rain overnight, raising concerns about the stability of the debris covering the village. Emergency responders are worried about further landslides as rainwater seeps through the unstable rubble.

An excavator donated by a local builder was the first piece of heavy machinery to reach the disaster site on Sunday. Villagers have been using shovels and farming tools to dig through the debris in search of survivors and victims, a treacherous task given the still-shifting ground.

Serhan Aktoprak, chief of the International Organization for Migration’s mission in Papua New Guinea, expressed concerns about ongoing landslides and falling rocks amid unpredictable weather conditions.

Papua New Guinea’s defense minister and the director of the National Disaster Center flew to Yambali on Sunday to assess the situation and determine the need for further international support. The government has already allocated funds to purchase emergency supplies for the 4,000 displaced survivors.

As the situation unfolds, military earth-moving equipment is being transported to the disaster scene, although villagers are divided over its use, fearing that heavy machinery could further damage the buried bodies of their loved ones.

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