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Aid Starts To Arrive For PNG Landslide Disaster Victims

Caleb Fotheringham, RNZ Pacific Journalist

Some of the victims of the landslide disaster in Enga province in Papua New Guinea received food supplies from aid agencies on Tuesday, with more to be provided today.

It comes as the UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported more rock falls in the area.

Mohamud Omer, who is with the IOM on the ground, said 7847 people in the area had been affected by the landslide while around 1650 had been displaced from their homes.

PNG's National Disaster Centre has said more than 2000 people were buried by the landslide but the actual number is unknown.

"Still there is no further information from the government [on the number]," Omer said.

He hoped there would be a clearer picture as more bodies are recovered.

The National reports 11 bodies have now been recovered. Among the dead are two children aged eight and 12-years-old.

Since the start of the disaster - that hit Yambali village at 3am on 24 May - local villagers have been using their hands and shovels to dig out bodies.

"People are still digging, searching for their families under debris.

"The rocks and boulders are very, very big and it's beyond the capacity of the people."

Omer said the main highway that provides the easiest access to Yambali village is still blocked with debris.

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"The information that we heard from the government is they're still waiting for the update from the geotechnical assessment team."

Engineers have been deployed by the PNG Defence Force and a team from New Zealand is providing assistance.

In the meantime supplies are being delivered through an alternate route, he said.

An IOM report said the Australian Disaster and Response team on the ground is supervising the setup of tents.

Two heavy machinery units are levelling the ground to accommodate additional shelter tents for the people displaced from their home.

As of Monday the total number of excavators at the site was four.

Food items distributed include rice, tinned fish, cooking oil, sugar and iodized salt.

The IOM is updating records to ensure aid distribution amongst families is fair.

While the Papua New Guinea Disaster Force is assisting with distribution and also maintaining order.

The IOM and World Vision are now preparing to distribute non-food items.

Another report by the IOM said security concerns were reported at the site where displaced people are building shelters, "necessitating careful management of the situation".

RNZ Pacific correspondent Scott Waide said politicians in the country are now giving more attention to Enga.

There had been little political response in the early stages of the landslide until the parliamentary sitting began last week. MPs had been distracted by a planned vote of no confidence in Prime Minister James Marape that is likely to happen this week.

"During the parliament sitting, the speaker of parliament basically scolded all the politicians saying our focus has shifted from Enga to the vote of confidence," Waide said.

"Then a few other members of parliament stood up and expressed their condolences.

"I think it feels as if people at the political level are more guarded now about how their attention is being spent."

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