A landslide near Mendi in Papua New Guinea’s Hela Province early Tuesday morning wiped out the entire village of Tumbi while villagers slept.
“Approximately 42 houses formed the village, with just a handful of people escaping,” said David Harris, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Asia-Pacific coordinator. “One of the survivors, a guest-house owner, was not at home at the time, and returned to find his wife, children, and parents all missing.”
The devastation covers an area more than a kilometer (.6 miles) long and hundreds of meters wide. According to an ABC news report, some of the boulders dislodged are the size of cars.
There are two Nazarene churches in the area, Nogoli and Para. The Nogoli church is a 30-minute walk from the landslide area and its members were not affected by the disaster.
George Miller, former missionary to PNG, now Solomon Islands’ District superintendent, said eight families are believed to have perished in the landslide who are relatives of Pastor Wagale, church leader at Hides 4 in the new Hela province.
As of Thursday, at least 60 bodies were recovered and 20 people were considered missing. As is the custom in PNG, thousands with mud-smeared faces gathered to mourn the loss of lives.
“This is a tragedy of a magnitude the nation hasn’t seen before,” former MP (member of parliament) Sir Alfred Kaibe told a reporter.
Locals in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands have blamed blasting from nearby quarries for the landslide. Continuing rains have left locals fearing another.
“The Hela District is partnering with the Nogoli and Para churches in establishment of disaster relief care centers in each location to meet the needs of families impacted by this disaster, effective immediately,” said Harmon Schmelzenbach, Melanesia’s field strategy coordinator.
District Superintedent Yasapi, Joseph Warai, and Pastor Philip from the Nogoli church are planning to visit the site this weekend and further assess and develop an appropriate and effective disaster response. Continued prayer is requested for all affected.
—Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Asia-Pacific