Wednesday, January 25, 2012

60 killed in landslide disaster


MORE than 60 villagers reportedly died and many more unaccounted for after a major landslide buried homes, vehicles and properties at dawn yesterday, The National reports.
The disaster near the Tumbi quarry of the PNG LNG project near Hides, Southern Highlands province, occurred between 3am and 5am.
Papua New Guinean authorities were responding.
According to initial reports, the whole side of a nearby mountain collapsed covering an area stretching about 2km and 500m wide.
It cut off road access to the Komo international airport construction site, LNG conditioning plant site and the Komo township.
LNG developer Esso Highlands in a statement said that the landslide occurred around 6am.
“It is unclear where the landslide started, or what caused it. Esso Highlands has been in communication with government, including the national disaster and emergency relief office.
“Our main concern is for the safety and well-being of our workforce and the community in the area. We have offered our support to the government and the local community.”
Hides Gas Development Company chairman Libe Parindali said it was a major national disaster at the heart of the LNG project.
He said initial reports from the disaster site puts the figure of 60 people buried alive when the mountain side came down after heavy rain.
It caused a landslide stretching 2km from the mountain covering Tumbi quarry into Tagali river, burying everything in its path.
“From initial report more than 60 people, a couple of vehicles, buses and heavy machines and trucks are underground,” Parindali said.
He said people from Enga, Western Highlands and parts of the region had settled in the area looking for work with the PNG LNG project.
He said project developers were cooperating with the locals to search for bodies.
“The main focus now is to retrieve the bodies of those buried. It will take time to get the bodies out,” Parindali said.
Major contractors MCJC and CCJV and the project developers have agreed to stop construction activities and mobilise their resources in the disaster area.
The HGDC board met with its management team comprising general manager Richard Champion, JV manager Andrew Pitman and human resources advisor Rueben Aila.
The company announced an initial support funding of K20,000 to assist the retrieval of  bodies.
Its business partners KK Kingston will provide relief assistance including water bottles, torches and food supply.
The company was willing to pay return airfares for an officer each from the Red Cross, National Disaster and Emergency and Department of Petroleum and Energy to visit the disaster site and assess the damage.
Juha Landowner leader Hengebe Haluja told The National by mobile phone that 42 houses, including a guest house in which 20 guests were staying overnight, were buried.
He said three vehicles, five heavy machinery including graders and excavators and 20 constructions workers were believed to be buried under the landslide.
“The road from Hides PDL 1 to PDL 7 has been cut off by 700m to 800m wide roadblock.”
Haluja has called on Petroleum and Energy Minister William Duma, Treasury and Finance Minister Don Polye and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to visit the disaster area.
Another leader, Peter Laki, said it was a major tragedy that needed immediate government attention for the sake of the PNG LNG project.
Laki said the people of Hides were in mourning for their tribesmen who were buried alive.
“It will take months to recover the bodies considering the amount of dirt that has piled up from the landslide.

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