Papua New Guinea landslide: More than 2,000 feared buried

UN estimates at least 670 people killed but death toll expected to rise

The scene in Mulitaka village, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea. People are digging through the debris with their hands and sticks, trying to find survivors. AFP
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More than 2,000 people are feared to have been buried under a landslide in Papua New Guinea, the government said on Monday.

A UN agency placed the death toll at potentially more than 670 people, agencies reported, but few of those buried are expected to survive.

Tribal warfare in the area and a difficult terrain have made it increasingly difficult for aid workers to reach the site and look for survivors after disaster struck three days ago.

The landslide crashed through six villages in the Enga region of northern Papua New Guinea in the early hours of Friday morning when a part of Mount Mungalo collapsed, burying scores of homes with people inside.

"I have 18 of my family members buried under the debris and soil that I am standing on, and a lot more family members in the village I cannot count," resident Evit Kambu told Reuters. "But I cannot retrieve the bodies so I am standing here helplessly."

Only seven bodies have been recovered so far and more than 72 hours since the incident, residents have resorted to digging through the debris with their hands, spades and sticks in an attempt to reach survivors.

"The land mass is still sliding, rocks are falling from the mountain," UN migration agency official Serhan Aktoprak told AFP.

The disaster centre said the landslip continued to pose a danger to survivors and emergency teams, and called for international help in the rescue effort.

Australia announced a $1.6 million aid package, as its defence forces have already started providing logistical support on the ground. China also said it would provide assistance with the search as well as post-disaster reconstruction.

Mr Aktoprak said the ground remained unstable as water continued to flow, making it difficult for debris to be properly cleared. Rescue efforts and the arrival of heavy machinery have also been obstructed by tribal fighting nearby.

Aid agencies estimate more than 1,000 survivors have been displaced.

Since the beginning of the year, Papua New Guinea has been hit by a number of floods, landslides and earthquakes.

Updated: May 27, 2024, 12:49 PM