More than 670 feared dead in Papua New Guinea landslide, UN agency says

View of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea May 24, 2024 in this obtained image. Emmanuel Eralia via REUTERS
PAPUA-LANDSLIDE View of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea May 24, 2024 in this obtained image. Emmanuel Eralia via REUTERS
Image: Emmanuel Eralia

More than 670 people have died in Papua New Guinea's massive landslide, the UN migration agency estimated on Sunday as rescue efforts continued.

Media in the South Pacific nation north of Australia had previously estimated Friday's landslide had buried more than 300 people. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said earlier on Sunday that only five bodies had been retrieved from the rubble.

The agency based its death toll estimates on information provided by officials at Yambali Village in the Enga province, who say more than 150 houses were buried in Friday's landslide, Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the agency’s mission in Papua New Guinea said in an email statement.

More than six villages have been affected by the landslide in the province's Mulitaka region, about 600km from the capital Port Moresby, said Australia's department of foreign affairs and trade.

“Land is still sliding, rocks are falling, ground soil is cracking due to constant increased pressure and groundwater is running thus area is posing an extreme risk for everyone,” Aktoprak said.

More than 250 houses nearby have been abandoned by the inhabitants, who had taken temporary shelter with their relatives and friends, and some 1,250 people have been displaced, the agency said.

“People are using digging sticks, spades, large agricultural forks to remove the bodies buried under the soil,” Aktoprak said.

The IOM said more than 100 houses, an elementary school, small businesses and stalls, a guest house, and a petrol station were buried.

The UN's Papua New Guinea office said three bodies were retrieved from an area where 50 to 60 homes had been destroyed, while six people, including a child, were pulled from rubble alive.

It said many of those buried were yet to be located as search and rescue efforts continued in the mountainous area of the country, which shares the island of New Guinea with Indonesia.

Aid group CARE Australia said late on Saturday that nearly 4,000 people lived in the impact zone but the number affected was probably higher as the area is “a place of refuge for those displaced by conflicts” in nearby areas.

At least 26 men were killed in Enga Province in February in an ambush amid tribal violence that prompted Prime Minister James Marape to give arrest powers to the country's military.

The landslide left debris up to 8m deep across 200 square km, cutting off road access and making relief efforts difficult, CARE said. Helicopters were the only way to reach the area, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported.

Aid groups have said more homes could be at risk if the landslide continues down the mountain, as the terrain remains unstable.

Marape has said disaster officials, the defence force and department of works and highways were assisting with relief and recovery efforts.

Social media footage posted by villager Ninga Role showed people clambering over rocks, uprooted trees and mounds of dirt searching for survivors. Women could be heard weeping in the background.



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