Government declares disaster

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 15, 2008) - The Okuk Highway was cut off again early on Saturday at Gera village, a few kilometres east of Kundiawa, Chimbu Province, in one of the worst disasters in the region.

A 150-metre stretch of the highway was cut off with trees, houses and coffee plots sitting on the original highway.

The tip of a huge, moving of land which blocked the highway, covered 20 houses, four church buildings, many food gardens, livestock and displaced more than 2000 people.

Electricity supply into the area was cut off when a power pole was shifted out of position and electricity cables broken.

The Simbu Provincial Government declared Gera a "disaster zone".

Chimbu provincial police commander Joseph Tondop said there were fears of a major law and order problem in the area and appealed to the Government to urgently provide relief supplies before the situation got out of hand.

"This is a double tragedy for the region where the lives of over 2000 people are at stake and the Okuk Highway, which is the economic lifeline of the country, is completely cut off," Mr Tondop said.

He said the displaced villagers were co-operating with police and the public by helping the stranded travelling public.

Travellers and their cargo going into Chimbu or Goroka were changing buses at the disaster zone. So far there were no incidents of harassment or stealing because of a heavy presence of police from Kerowagi mobile squad and Kundiawa.

The landslide was triggered by limestone dropping onto the Hima Kopro rocks above Ku and Gera villages last Tuesday.

The rock sank into the soil at the foot of the hill, forcing a massive land area to slide slowly down towards the highway.

Pastor Barme Yopa, a landowner, said villagers from Wamai l Ward 13 within the Tambare local level government were left homeless. He said many of the people affected fled to neighbouring Ku, Dinga, and Womai villages when the earth rumbled.

Two big creeks in the area – Nilguma and Gambagol – sank into the earth and their natural beds were emptied of water.

The landmass was still moving yesterday, in some instances, sending the public running for cover when the tremors got bigger. Meanwhile, in Kundiawa Town, there was a drastic shortage of fuel with the town’s two service stations running out of stock. Black marketeers took advantage of the situation by increasing the normal fuel price, especially diesel.

A five-litre container of diesel which normally sells at K17, was sold yesterday for K25.

Other vehicle operators headed toward Minj and stations in the Western Highlands to restock.

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