Papua New Guinea disaster agency fears 2,000 dead after landslide

World Monday 27/May/2024 14:14 PM
Papua New Guinea disaster agency fears 2,000 dead after landslide

Port Moresby: Papua New Guinea's disaster agency has said more than 2,000 people could be buried under the rubble after a landslide last Friday.

"The landslide buried more than 2,000 people alive and caused major destruction to buildings," an official from the country's National Disaster Centre said in a letter to the United Nations.

Several villages in the province of Enga were hit when part of a mountain collapsed in the early hours of Friday in the remote central highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Previous estimates from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) had on Sunday put the death toll at 670.

The IOM's chief of mission in Papua New Guinea, Serhan Aktoprak, said today that chances of finding survivors, more than three days after the landslide, were "slim."

Aktoprak said rescue efforts were being hampered by the region's remoteness and lack of infrastructure. Teams are reaching the affected area by road from the provincial capital Wabag, but there was no overnight accommodation available, he stated.

The emergency operation was also being complicated by "an ongoing tribal fight" in the area forcing the country's military to provide convoys for rescue teams.

An estimated 1,500 people are estimated to have been displaced, Aktoprak said. Around 4,000 people are believed to have lived in the affected area.

The IOM official said the cause of the landslide was likely a "combination of multiple factors" including heavy rain, "tectonic movements" and a potential lightning strike, as reported by one eyewitness.

The National Disaster Centre's letter to the UN mission in Papua New Guinea said the situation in the affected area was still highly unstable, posing further risks for rescue teams.

Video from the scene on social media showed people trying to find survivors under large heaps of rubble using shovels. Aktoprak previously said most of the houses were buried 6 to 8 metres deep.

Papua New Guinea, with a population of almost 10 million people, lies just north of Australia.