Papua New Guinea stops rescuing victims of landslides amid fear of another

WELLINGTON, NZ (Reuters) – New Zealand geologists warned that further landslides would likely occur in the area where a part of a mountain fell onto a remote Papua New Guinea village two weeks ago. Authorities had ended their search and rescue operations.

The number of people who died in the massive Enga landslide that occurred in PNG on May 24 is still unknown. According to the PNG government, more than 2,000 people were buried alive. A U.N. report puts the death toll around 670.

So far, only 11 bodies have recovered.

Geotechnical engineers from New Zealand sent to Papua New Guinea published a report Thursday, raising concerns over the stability of the soil not only in the landslide area but also on either side.

Aaron Waterreus (leader of Fire and Emergency New Zealand, FENZ), which includes the geotechnical engineer, stated in a Friday press conference that “we believe there is a real potential for more landslides in the near to medium term”.

FENZ geotechnical Engineer Jan Kupec said the landslide is so large that it’s impossible to stop. It could continue moving for months or years.

He said that the rock avalanche is likely a part of a landslide which has been reactivated. There are now fears that the monsoon rains may liquefy material that fell off the hill, causing the landslide to reactivate.

The Enga Provincial Government announced on Thursday that it would be evacuating large areas in the area of the landslide because there are concerns about further earth movement.

The area was declared a mass grave site by the government after it ceased to search for bodies.

According to the U.N. International Organisation for Migration, more than 7,200 persons were displaced and that number may rise.

Heavy equipment and aid arrived slowly due to the treacherous terrain in the area and the tribal unrest. PNG officials had ruled out survivors under the rubble a week earlier.

According to the IOM, the disaster site will be quarantined and access restricted in order to prevent the spread disease caused by decaying corpses.

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