26 March 2012

There is still no justice for the Tumbi Quarry landslide victims

Posted by Dave Petley

NZ Herald ran a story over the weekend about the Tumbi Quarry landslide in Papua New Guinea, which killed at least 25 people (and possibly as many as 60 people) in January.  As a reminder, the landslide occurred at the site of a quarry that has been providing aggregate for a LNG pipeline being constructed by Exxon-Mobil.  It remains unclear as to whether the quarry played a role, but to date, despite promises, there has been no announcement of the actual instigation of a proper independent inquiry.

The journalist, Catherine Wilson, visited the site last week and interviewed the local landowners and villagers.  The report highlights the injustice felt by those affected by the landslide that the road has been reopened across the landslide without the bodies of the deceased being recovered.

Also of interest is a description of the landslide by Jokoya Piwako, chief of Tumbi and Tumbiago villages:

“Early in the morning, I woke up to go to work around 5 o’clock. I went out about 1km; then I heard the landslide come [about 5:45am]. I heard a big sound of smashing of the stone.  All the rocks and everything went up in the air and the big wall of water, the rivers came in. Then after that, all the trees and stones and rocks up in the air came down and covered all the houses and children.  I just couldn’t believe what had happened to my village, because all of my family, children, everything was gone with the house, everything.”

Chief Jokoya lost two wives, four children, several uncles and 15 to 20 visitors who were staying in his guesthouse at the village.

Catherine sent me some images of the landslide that she took during her visit to the site, and has graciously allowed me to post them (but note that she retains the copyright).  This is Chief Jokoya standing in front of the landslide that killed two of his wives and four of his children:

And this is the landslide scar itself.  Note the road bulldozed across the landslide mass:

I will revisit this image, together with the eye-witness description of the failure event in the NZ Herald article and the pre-landslide aerial photos, in a post in a couple of days.  I think together they provide a better understanding of what happened at Tumbi Quarry.