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Massive landslide slams into Eastern Highlands mining camp

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PGN Post-Courier, Dec. 8, 2008) – Further search for survivors or bodies of those trapped under the mud and debris at the Kainantu mine, Eastern Highlands, have been called off.

Five members of the Queensland Fire and Rescue Services and their two sniffer dogs, flown into the mine site and into the disaster area yesterday could not locate any survivors or bodies in the mud and debris and the search was called off at about 12 midday yesterday..

Reports at about midday yesterday from the mine put the death toll at the Kora exploration camp at 10, including three children who were staying at the camp that night.

The reports say three geologists and some security guards were among those who were killed in the massive landslide that smashed into the camp – the biggest of Barrick Gold’s three exploration camp in the special mining lease area.

The Minister for Inter Government Relations, Job Pomat and government officials are going into the disaster site to see for themselves the destruction and restoration efforts.

"The minister has flown in from Port Moresby and is here in Lae. We leave for the mine site early in the morning," Secretary and Chairman of the National Disaster and Emergency Service Manasupe Zurenuoc said. He said the minister wanted to see the destruction and the impact on the lives of the people there "because they are our people and he wants to find out what the Government can do in the situation".

At about 8.30 last Thursday evening, the ground above the Kora camp site moved and came down on the camp at the bottom of the cone shaped gorge.

"Barrick Gold Corporation confirms that its remote Kora exploration accommodation camp was impacted by a mudslide, triggered by extreme rainfall that occurred at about 5.45pm (EST) on December 4," the company said in the statement released on Friday afternoon. "Sadly Barrick advises there have been 10 fatalities, all local villagers – five of whom worked for the company and five who may have been travelling through the area from a nearby village food gardens.

"The next-of-kin are being notified, and support and counselling is being provided.

"We are dearly saddened by this tragic event and the loss of life that has directly affected our employees and the local community.

"Our thoughts are with the families of the people who lost their lives as a result of the natural disaster," president of Barrick Australia Pacific business unit, Joe O’Rourke said in the press statement.

He said "although our employees have been accounted for and evacuated from the incident site, we will continue with our search activities".

When news of the landslip reached Mr Zurenuoc, he quickly asked the Australian High Commission for help to determine whether there were any survivors or bodies trapped under the mud and debris.ON Friday evening the news had reached Lae that the Australians were coming on Saturday with the sniffer dogs and would be landing at the Gusap airstrip, next to the Kainantu mine.

All relevant government agencies such as the quarantine service, customs, civil aviation went to work to give clearance for the dogs to came into the country and over to the disaster site.

The land where the slip occurred is under dispute between two groups of people, who are claiming ownership.

The conflict led to a tribal fight and some people were killed recently and relations between the two groups were hostile.

"This is not the last. More problems will occur there ... there are dark forces at work here," one man was heard explaining the disaster to people at Waterise on Saturday.

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier

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