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Debris clearing moving along, official death toll expected soon

By Yvonne Haip

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Feb.15, 2012) – Work to clear debris from the massive landslide on Jan. 24 in Tumbi, near Komo in Hela, is progressing well, a disaster and relief coordinator said yesterday.

Martin Pat, the Southern Highlands disaster and emergency relief coordinator, said since work began last Saturday, they had not recovered any more bodies.

People in the area are still mourning their relatives who died in the disaster and have called for a memorial park to be built at the site.

They thanked Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, Works and Transport Minister Francis Awesa and local MP Francis Potape for visiting them and allocating K10 million [US$4.7 million] for relief efforts.

Pat said there could be more than the 25 deaths recorded as work to clear up the area continued.

He said the death toll would be established by next Tuesday as some bodies could still be trapped under the debris.

Pat said the issue of locals supplying ghost names and claims to the investigating team had been sorted out as they had been told to stop disrupting investigations.

He said police were on site to monitor and work on the confirmation of the death toll and casualty list.

[PIR editor’s note: Despite local disaster management claims, a major thoroughfare between Tari and Komo reportedly has been blocked by relatives of landslide victims who are refusing to re-open the road until they receive the government-announced relief funds. Locals have not received clarifications as to whether the funds will be released directly to them, or distributed through aid services. The road closure is supposedly affecting Exxon Mobil operations as the company attempts to transport supplies to the LNG site.]

The Papua New Guinea Defence Force engineering battalion arrives this week.

He said defense force engineers would provide technical advice as well as look into other projects that were under way.

Pat said the money allocated by the government was yet to be released and the provincial crisis management team, led by him and Hela chief executive officer, William Bando, would be travelling to Port Moresby this week to find out when they would receive that money.

He said they would find out from the government how it wanted the funds to be used.

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