NINE MORE BODIES RECOVERED, 27 STILL MISSING IN MOROBE MUDSLIDE

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By Jim Baynes

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 8, 2002 – The National/AAP)---Buried under more than 10 meters (33 feet) of solidified mud, the bodies of dozens of victims of Papua New Guinea’s latest landslide disaster will probably never be recovered.

Authorities on Friday said they believed the ninth body, that of a five-year-old boy, will be the last of the 36 dead villagers to be unearthed from the rubble at Kobung.

Early on Tuesday morning the side of a mountain collapsed, crushing the hamlets and their occupants while they slept.

To date, 27 villagers are still missing. But recovering their remains was proving an impossible task, said Morobe province’s director of disaster relief Linus Miria.

"There’s just too much mud. Tons and tons and tons of mud," Mr. Miria told AAP.

"It’s an impossible task."

Soon after the collapse, two toddlers and a mother were among eight bodies to be found lying close to the surface, with the remaining villagers believed to be much further underground.

But by Thursday afternoon the body of another young child was unearthed.

"We found a ninth body. It was another child -- a young boy of five years," Mr. Miria said.

Another visitor to the scene said villagers were continuing to prod the earth with small hand tools and digging sticks, but said the debris seemed to have dried rock-hard.

"It’s like being on top of a graveyard," she told AAP.

The Red Cross was set to arrive at the site to help with the relocation of the dozens of families who will have to rebuild their lives and re-grow their coffee on safer ground.

Hundreds of other villagers in the disaster-prone district live near dangerous fault-lines, but convincing them to head to safety from the locations where many of them were born is a big request.

Not the least because many of them believe natural disasters are the work of god, with some locals attributing this latest landslide to the killing of a sacred animal.

The landslide also buried a section of the already-blocked main road, which will take a month to reconnect.

In 1988, a similar disaster in the area claimed the lives of 70, when a landslide buried an entire village.

Meanwhile, director of National Disaster and Emergency Services Henry Mokono returned to Port Moresby over the weekend, satisfied that the Morobe provincial administration’s handling of the landslide disaster at Wantoat "was well in hand."

He said international donor agencies were on hand to help should the need arise.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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