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Rescue efforts are underway in Papua New Guinea after a massive landslide

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In Papua New Guinea today, a landslide has killed an estimated 670 people, with rescue efforts underway to save others. The landslide occurred some 370 miles from the capital, Port Moresby. Marian Faa reports for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Papua New Guinea. She joins us now from Brisbane. Thanks for being with us.

MARIAN FAA: Nice to be with you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: This landslide happened Friday. Is the area we're talking about particularly remote?

FAA: So the landslide struck the Maip Mulitaka District in Enga Province, which is about 600 kilometers from the capital of PNG, Port Moresby. And the area is around two hours' drive from the nearest town of Wabag. So this village is situated along a major highway in PNG, but from what we understand, 150 meters of the road is blocked due to this landslide, which is making access to the disaster zone extremely difficult for emergency responders.

RASCOE: Are first responders expecting to find any survivors?

FAA: So we know that so far, five bodies have been recovered. We know that six people have been treated in hospital. In terms of the recovery efforts and where the landslide has impacted, the houses that have been flattened, I think hopes are really fading for any survivors.

RASCOE: Can you tell us any more about the rescue efforts?

FAA: The local provincial government has assembled an emergency response team consisting of defense personnel, police, health workers. We've also got two U.N. agencies on the ground and some NGOs. But as I mentioned, access to this area is extremely difficult. Also complicating things is tribal fighting that has erupted in the area over the past few days. We've been - heard reports of houses being burned down in nearby villages.

Now, this is unrelated to the landslide, but it does make travel to the region more dangerous for aid workers. So they're actually restricted to driving during daylight hours and traveling in convoys, which really limits the time they can spend on the ground. But that being said, we're told that sort of initial supplies of basic necessities like food and water and shelter are being provided. Eventually, they'll need to get excavators in to start sort of recovering bodies, but that's likely to be further down the track.

RASCOE: Are landslides particularly common there in Papua New Guinea?

FAA: Well, unfortunately, PNG does experience landslides intermittently. PNG is a mountainous area, and particularly this part of Papua New Guinea, in the highlands. It also has a high degree of rainfall, which obviously impacts the soil, and then Papal New Guinea sits on the Ring of Fire, which is a string of active volcanoes, an area of high seismic activity, which means the country is prone to regular earthquakes.

So that does create the conditions that make landslides quite common. We don't know the exact cause of this landslide at this stage. That's still being looked into. But in terms of the scale and impact of this particular disaster, it is really catastrophic, and I don't think we've seen anything like this in PNG, certainly not in recent times.

RASCOE: That's Reporter Marian Faa of Australia's ABC. Thanks for speaking with us.

FAA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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