‘A miracle’: Couple survives Papua New Guinea landslide that ‘buried 2,000’

Two found alive as overnight rains raise fears tonnes of rubble covering the area could become dangerously unstable.

This handout photo taken and received on May 26, 2024 from the International Organization for Migration shows an excavator driving towards the site of a landslide at Yambali Village in the region of Maip Mulitaka, in Papua New Guinea's Enga Province. More than 670 people are believed dead after a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea, a UN official told AFP on May 26 as aid workers and villagers braved perilous conditions in their desperate search for survivors. (Photo by Mohamud Omer / International Organization for Migration / AFP) / NO USE AFTER JUNE 5, 2024 10:36:26 GMT - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION / MOHAMUD OMER - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - NO ARCHIVE
While emergency crews have reached the location, heavy equipment required for the search and rescue has yet to arrive [Mohamud Omer/International Organization for Migration via AFP]

A couple has been found alive three days after a deadly landslide hit Papua New Guinea (PNG), media reports say, as the government informed the United Nations that more than 2,000 people may be buried under the rubble.

Overnight rains in the South Pacific island’s Enga province on Monday raised fears that the tonnes of rubble that covered the area could become dangerously unstable, hampering rescue efforts.

While emergency crews are at the location, heavy equipment required for the search and rescue is yet to arrive, as the main road remains cut off, with helicopters being the only way to access the affected area.

Only six bodies have been retrieved since the landslide hit on Friday. The UN said the number of possible deaths could change as the rescue efforts are expected to continue for days.

But in a surprise development on Monday, residents rescued a couple after hearing their cries for help.

Johnson and Jacklyn Yandam told PNG’s NBC News network that they were very grateful and described their rescue “as a miracle”.

“We thank God for saving our lives at that moment. We were certain that we were going to die but the big rocks didn’t crush us,” Jacklyn said. “It’s really hard to explain as we got trapped for nearly eight hours, then got rescued. We believe we were saved for a purpose.”

Hopes of finding more survivors, however, are dwindling.

In a letter to the UN, the PNG National Disaster Centre said the landslide “buried more than 2,000 people alive and caused major destruction”.

Residents carry their bags in the aftermath of a deadly landslide in Enga province of Papua New Guinea
People carry bags following a landslide in Enga province, Papua New Guinea, in this still image obtained from a video [Andrew Ruing/Handout via Reuters]

‘Rocks are falling’

PNG officials remained focused on clearing debris and improving access to the area, the UN said in its latest update, adding that it was helping the local authorities in moving people, distributing food and water, and setting up evacuation centres.

Overnight, heavy rain fell for two hours in the provincial capital of Wabag, 60km (35 miles) from devastated villages. A weather report was not immediately available from the disaster zone, where communications are limited.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the UN’s International Organization for Migration’s mission in PNG, said water was seeping between the debris and the earth below, increasing the risk of a further landslide.

“What really worries me personally very much is the weather, weather, weather,” Aktoprak said. “Because the land is still sliding. Rocks are falling.”

Despite the weather conditions, Aktoprak said in a separate interview with ABC News that emergency crews would continue to look for survivors until the residents asked them to stop.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies