More than 100 feared dead in Papua New Guinea landslide

More than 100 people are believed to have been killed in a landslide that buried a village in a remote part of Papua New Guinea.

The landslide struck Enga province, about 600 kilometres northwest of the capital Port Moresby, in the early hours of Friday morning. 

Residents from surrounding areas said boulders and trees from a collapsed mountainside buried parts of the community.

The chief of the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) mission in the Oceania country said the landslide hit the village of Yambali, about two hours’ drive from Enga’s provincial capital of Wabag.

“The land still continues sliding, therefore it makes it very difficult to operate on,” said Serhan Aktoprak, citing reports from IOM staff and others deployed from the provincial capital to the affected village.

Yambali sits along a road leading from the capital that is now blocked, hampering relief efforts.

He said the area affected covered the size of three to four football fields and that the village is home to almost 4,000 people.

Aktoprak said “given the scale of the disaster,” he feared the death toll could be higher than original estimates of about 100.

Water is inaccessible in the affected area, power lines are down and villagers are likely to struggle with accessing food.

An injured person is carried on a stretcher after a landslide in Yambali village, Papua New Guinea, May 24, 2024

“Immediate needs are shelter, other non-food items like blankets and bedsheets, food and drinking water,” he added.

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister James Marape said authorities were responding and that he would release information about the scale of destruction and loss of life when it is available.

“We are sending in disaster officials, PNG Defence Force and the Department of Works and Highways to start relief work, recovery of bodies and reconstruction of infrastructure,” Marape said in a statement.

Australia, a near neighbour and Papua New Guinea’s most generous provider of foreign aid, said the government was ready to help.

“We send our heartfelt sympathies to the people of PNG following the landslide,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong posted on X. “The loss of life and destruction is devastating.”

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

Telecommunications are poor, particularly outside the capital Port Moresby. Only 1.66 million people across the country use the internet and 85% of the population lives in rural areas.

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