More than 2,000 people buried alive in landslide – as ‘major destruction’ hampers rescue efforts

World

More than 4,000 people have been impacted, and hundreds feared dead, by a massive landslide that flattened a village in northern Papua New Guinea on Friday.

The landslide hit the Pacific nation at around 3am local time on Friday (7pm on Thursday UK time) and levelled the mountainous Kaokalam village in Enga Province – about 370 miles (600km) northwest of the capital Port Moresby.

The United Nations said on Sunday that three bodies had been retrieved from an area where 50 to 60 homes had been destroyed, and warned that the death toll would likely rise.

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 THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.?
Image:
A damaged house after the landslide. Pic: Reuters

Six people, including a child, were pulled from the rubble alive.

According to Australia‘s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), more than six villages have been impacted by the landslide in the province’s Mulitaka region, which local media said buried more than 300 people and 1,100 houses.

Survivors searched through tonnes of earth and rubble by hand looking for missing relatives while a first emergency convoy delivered food, water and other provisions on Saturday.

People carry bags in the aftermath of a landslide in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea, May 24, 2024, in this still image obtained from a video. Andrew Ruing/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT
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Locals carry their belongings away from the scene of the landslide. Pic: Reuters

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

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

Friday’s landslide has left debris up to eight metres deep across 200 sq km, cutting off road access, which was making relief efforts difficult. Helicopters are the only way to reach the area.

“More homes could be at risk if the landslide continues down the mountain,” a CARE spokesperson said in a statement.

People carry bags in the aftermath of a landslide in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea, May 24, 2024, in this still image obtained from a video. Andrew Ruing/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT
Image:
Locals carry their belongings away from the scene of the landslide. Pic: Reuters

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

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation of mostly subsistence farmers with 800 languages. There are few roads outside the larger cities.

With around 10 million people, it is the most populous South Pacific nation after Australia, which is home to around 27 million.


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It is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where much of the world’s earthquake and volcanic activity occurs.

In March, the country was hit by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake.

The United States and Australia are building closer defence ties with the strategically important nation, while China is also seeking closer security and economic ties.

US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said their governments stood ready to help respond to the landslide.

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