Send to

Rescue teams arrive at site of deadly landslide in Papua New Guinea

May 25, 2024 - 10:33 By AFP
A general view shows the site of a landslide in Maip Mulitaka in Papua New Guinea's Enga Province on May 24, 2024. Local officials and aid groups said a massive landslide struck a village in Papua New Guinea's highlands on Friday, with many feared dead. (AFP-Yonhap)

PORT MORESBY -- Rescue teams arrived at the site of a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea's remote highlands Saturday, helping villagers search for hundreds of people feared dead under towering mounds of rubble and mud.

The disaster hit an isolated part of Enga province at around 3:00 am Friday, according to government officials, when many villagers were at home asleep. "At this time, we are still searching for bodies who are buried by the massive landslide," said community leader Mark Ipuia, who feared "more than 300" villagers were entombed. So far, at least four bodies have been pulled from the debris, a United Nations official based in the capital Port Moresby told AFP on Saturday morning.

"There are a lot of houses under the debris that cannot be reached," said UN official Serhan Aktoprak, who estimated as many as 3,000 people called the hillside settlement home. "The land continues to slide and move, and that makes it dangerous for people to operate," he told AFP. Aid agencies said the catastrophe had effectively wiped out the village's livestock, food gardens and sources of clean water.

A rapid response team of medics, military and police began pouring into the disaster zone on Saturday morning after a journey complicated by the rugged terrain and damage to major roads.

"While the area is not densely populated, our concern is that the death toll could be disproportionately high," humanitarian agency CARE said Saturday as the first reinforcements arrived.

Total devastation

Images showed a scene of total devastation, with a vast bite of earth cleaved from densely vegetated Mount Mungalo.

Barefoot workers used shovels, axes and improvised tools to loosen and shift the earth, while others picked through mangled piles of corrugated iron that once provided shelter. The landslide loosened car-size boulders, trees and dirt that stretched down towards the valley floor.

Volunteers hauled a covered body away from the destruction on top of a makeshift stretcher. Steven Kandai, a community leader at the scene, told AFP that many residents had no time to flee. "All of a sudden there was a big landslip. The mountain just collapsed all of a sudden while people were still sleeping," he said, adding their homes were "completely buried."

Dozens of local men and women scrambled over the piles of rock and soil, digging, crying out, listening for survivors or simply scanning the scene in disbelief. Sitting just south of the equator, the area is hit by frequent heavy rains. In March, at least 23 people were killed by a landslide in a nearby province. (AFP)