People carry bags in the aftermath of a landslide in Enga Province, People carry bags in the aftermath of a landslide in Enga Province, 

Pope sends condolences to victims of Papua New Guinea landslide

Pope Francis conveys his deep sorrow and prayers for the victims of the recent landslide in Papua New Guinea, which has left thousands feared buried.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis has expressed his sorrow and sent prayers for the victims of a landslide that struck Papua New Guinea, burying an entire village and leaving thousands feared dead.

In a telegram sent by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope conveyed his heartfelt condolences and solidarity with the grieving families and all those affected by this tragedy.

The Holy Father emphasised his spiritual closeness to everyone affected by the disaster, praying especially for the deceased, those who mourn their loss, and for the rescue of the many still missing. "His Holiness offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they continue their relief efforts," says the telegram, adding that he "willingly invokes upon all the divine blessings of consolation and strength."

The tragedy

The landslide took place early on Friday morning in Enga province and has caused widespread devastation. According to the nation's National Disaster Centre, over 2,000 people are feared to have been buried alive. They have been unable to establish an exact number of casualties with estimates varying widely due to the challenging conditions of the rescue operations, which are undergoing amidst rubble as deep as 10 meters in some places and a lack of proper equipment. So far, fewer than a dozen bodies have been recovered, and the United Nations estimates that 670 people are missing.

The impact of the ladslide extended nearly a kilometre and completely submerged the village in its path. Approximately 3,800 people had been living in the affected area prior to the disaster. A letter from Lusete Laso Mana, acting director of the National Disaster Centre, described the damage as "extensive" and noted that it had "caused major impact on the economic lifeline of the country."

Prime Minister James Marape expressed his condolences and has mobilised the country’s defense force and emergency agencies to the area, located about 600 kilometers northwest of the capital, Port Moresby. However, residents of the affected Kaokalam village report that they are still awaiting substantial rescue operations.

Some witnesses say their entire families have been buried under the rubble, whilst noting that they believe survivors can still be heard calling for help under the rubble.

There are glimmers of hope amid the tragedy. Local media reported that a couple was pulled alive from the debris after their home only caught the edge of the landslide. They were rescued after their shouts for help were heard by rescue workers.

The region, however, remains at high risk with further rain forecasts and so remaining residents are being evacuated. 

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27 May 2024, 13:32