Sat, 15 June 2024
The Daily Ittefaq

Papua New Guinea: UN fears 670 dead after landslide

Update : 26 May 2024, 18:35

The death toll from Papua New Guinea's massive landslide rose to 670, the International Organization for Migration estimated Sunday, as aid workers and villagers braved dangerous conditions in a desperate search for survivors.

The once bustling hillside village Yambali in the province of Enga was almost completely wiped out when the landslide struck in the early hours of Friday morning, burying dozens of homes and the people sleeping in them.

"There are an estimated 150-plus houses now buried" said UN migration agency official Serhan Aktoprak, adding that "670-plus people are assumed dead."

"The situation is terrible with the land still sliding. The water is running and this is creating a massive risk for everyone involved," added Aktoprak, who is based in Port Moresby.

Relief workers were moving survivors to safer ground Sunday as tons of unstable earth and tribal warfare common in Papua New Guinea's highlands threatened rescue efforts.

Thousand people displaced
Relief agencies and local leaders initially feared that between 100 and 300 people had died in the disaster. By Sunday, they recovered only five bodies and the leg of a sixth victim.

Authorities revised the death toll upward when aid workers on the ground realized more people were living in the village than initially thought.

The village was home to more than 4,000 people and served as a trading post for alluvial miners who panned for gold in the highlands.

 The disaster has displaced more than 1,000 people, and food gardens and water supplies have been nearly wiped out.

On both sides of the massive debris field, which covers an area the size of three to four football fields and has cut off the main highway through the province, government authorities set up evacuation centers on safer ground.

Tribal clashes in area
In addition to the blocked highway, the convoys faced risks from tribal fighting in the village of Tambitanis, about halfway along the route, as they transported food, water and other essentials to the devastated village, 60 kilometers (35 miles) from the provincial capital of Wabag, since Saturday.

Papua New Guinea soldiers provided security for the convoys. Eight locals were killed on Saturday in a clash between two rival clans over a long-standing dispute unrelated to the landslide.

Enga province is a sparsely populated and difficult-to-access inland region in the northern half of Papua New Guinea. The landslide occurred approximately 600 kilometers northwest of the capital, Port Moresby.

Just south of the equator, the area often experiences heavy rainfall, including intense downpours and flooding this year.

It is also prone to volcanic and seismic activity.

In March, a landslide killed at least 23 people in a nearby province.

More on this topic

More on this topic