Adventist Grandmother Saves 17 in Papua New Guinea Landslide

ADRA is responding to deadly disaster that buried hundreds alive in highlands village.

Juliana Muniz
Adventist Grandmother Saves 17 in Papua New Guinea Landslide
The landslide caused “major destruction” in Yambali village, in Enga Province, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. [Image: gettyimages - Peter Hermes Furian]

More than 7,800 people were affected by a devastating landslide in Mulitaka, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea, on Friday, May 24. The disaster, which occurred around 3:00 a.m., displaced thousands of people and has an estimated death toll of 670, although as many as 2,000 may have been buried alive, according to PNG government sources.

Luke Nathan, president of the Western Highlands Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, reported that 70 Adventist church members were affected, but no Adventist lives were lost. The local church building suffered partial damage, with ongoing instability in the area posing future risks, he said.

A response team of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has traveled to the affected area. The team is implementing a response plan that includes procuring and distributing relief items such as food, hygiene supplies, and bedding kits.

Joining the ADRA team are Nathan, Papua New Guinea Union Mission president Malachi Yani, and more than 50 church members who will be working alongside ADRA during the distribution. The team will also conduct a needs assessment, they reported.

According to several sources, food and medicine began to arrive in the area on May 29. Some aid workers shared that they found children rendered speechless by the tragedy. They also found that after days of digging with makeshift tools, rescuers have recovered only nine bodies, and the hope of finding any survivors has faded away.

The PNG military told AFP that the zone is “too dangerous” to operate in, and that all efforts to recover bodies have been called off because of the danger of further landslides. The highland area will be cordoned off until further notice, they reported.

Also, AFP obtained a June 4 internal report of the PNG’s mining and geohazards department, in which it warns about the “high likelihood of further landslides” at the site “in the immediate future.” Landslides in the PNG highlands are extremely common, although experts were surprised by the massive size and deadly nature of the May 24 disaster.

Heroic Adventist Grandmother

A 70-year-old church member caught in the landslide was rescued after saving 17 lives — seven adults and 10 children — according to the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier. Kion Kopal Diai, who was asleep at a lodge owned by her son, woke up to a rumbling sound. After alerting guests, who escaped, Diai went back to her room when the lodge was swept away by the landslide.

“The lodge was completely buried with mama Kion inside,” the Post-Courier reported. Diai was rescued by authorities in what the article describes as a “miraculous escape.”

Her grandson Desmond Kopen shared the story with the newspaper, saying his grandmother is a “prayer warrior in the local Adventist church.”The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.

Juliana Muniz

Juliana Muniz, Adventist Record, and Adventist Review