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PNG floods: death toll eases but thousands more homeless

By LUCY PALMER

PORT MORESBY: The number of people made homeless by floods and landslides in central Papua New Guinea has increased dramati cally to about 3500.

Reports from the beleaguered re gions of the Western Highlands and Chimbu Province, however, reduce the estimated number of deaths from 14 to 8.

The heavy rains, beginning PNG's wet season, fell in the moun tainous region yesterday, hitting hardest the communities next to the major rivers.

Bridges had been torn down, roads blocked, homes destroyed, and vital gardens and cash crops washed away, said the Director General of the National Disaster and Emergency Services, Leith An

derson.

By late yesterday, rains that had. made overnight rescue operations almost impossible had eased, mak ing it possible for families to make their way to five care centres in the region.

In some villages the water had been waist deep, and many valuable animals had drowned, a spokesman

for the Western Highlands Govern ment said.

Six people had been confirmed dead in Chimbu Province, two in the Western Highlands.

Two boys had been buried alive by landslides, their bodies yet to be found.

Many people were still stranded on small islands left above the flood waters, more than 800 having been rescued yesterday by boat and heli copter.

"On one small island there were hundreds of people. When the jet boats arrived they said, "we're not

moving, you have to take the pigs first'," Mr Anderson said.

Oncc the pigs had gone, men were next and women and children last.

Tomorrow he would ask the Aus tralian High Commission in Port Moresby for an RAAF Hercules to take a replacement bridge to Mount Hagen.

A cyclone warning had been is sued to people in the group of is lands off the far south-western tip of the PNG mainland. Cyclone Rewa, travelling at about 20km/h across the Coral Sea toward the islands of

the Milne Bay Province, was build ing intensity, Mr Anderson said.

By 8pm yesterday, lOOkm/h winds would begin hitting the is lands of Milne Bay Province.

Cyclone Rewa was also likely to create more rain in the highlands region.

"At the moment it's not looking good," he said.

This latest natural disaster, after a series of major earthquakes in November which killed 40 people, has taken the number of homeless people in PNG to more than

11,000.

- MP

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