Dozens feared dead after ‘massive’ landslide hits Papua New Guinea

Governor of Enga province says the disaster caused ‘loss of life and property’ in at least six villages.

A massive landslide has struck Papua New Guinea’s highlands, local officials and aid groups said, with dozens believed to have been killed.

The disaster hit Kaokalam village in Papua New Guinea’s Enga province, about 600km (370 miles) northwest of the South Pacific island nation’s capital of Port Moresby, at about 3am local time on Friday (17:00 GMT Thursday).

According to reports from the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) and local media, about 100 people are believed to have been killed, but authorities have not confirmed this figure.

“Authorities say the scale of the landslide is ‘massive’, but they still cannot confirm the death toll,” said Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from Jakarta in Indonesia.

She said the disaster affected a community of mostly subsistence farmers living in a “remote and quite hilly area where landslides are common”.

“Many homes have been destroyed as well as the gardens that people rely on to feed themselves in these communities,” our correspondent added.

Enga’s provincial governor Peter Ipatas told the AFP news agency that a big landslide had caused “loss of life and property”. He said at least six villages had been affected.

Prime Minister James Marape said in a statement that he was yet to be fully briefed on the situation but assured that relevant authorities are working diligently to address the disaster.

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

“I will release further information as I am fully briefed on the scale of destruction and loss of lives.”

TOPSHOT - People gather at 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 May 24, with many feared dead.(Photo by AFP) RELATED CONTEN
Images from the scene of the landslide were posted on social media [AFP]

‘Houses got buried’

Images from the scene posted on social media showed a vast bite of rock and soil cleaved off from a densely vegetated hill. A long and wide scar of car-size boulders, felled trees and dirt stretched down towards the valley floor.

The remains of many corrugated tin shelters could be seen at the foot of a large landslide.

Dozens of local men and women scrambled over the piles of rock and soil, digging, crying out, listening for survivors or standing scanning the scene in disbelief.

Some became instant rescuers, pulling out bodies buried under rocks and trees.

“The landslide hit around three last night and it looks like more than 100 houses got buried. It is not yet known how many people were in those houses,” Vincent Pyati, president of the local Community Development Association, told AFP. “The number of victims is unknown.”

Elizabeth Laruma, who runs a women’s business association in Porgera, a town in the same province near the Porgera Gold Mine, told the ABC houses in Kaokalam village were flattened when the side of a mountain gave way. “From what I can presume, it’s about 100-plus people who are buried beneath the ground,” she said.

The landslide hit a section of highway near the mine, operated by Barrick Gold through Barrick Niugini Ltd, its joint venture with China’s Zijin Mining. A spokesperson said it was too soon to know whether there had been any damage to the mine, which had enough supplies to operate normally in the short term.

Aid agencies including the Papua New Guinea Red Cross and CARE said they had received confirmation of the landslide, and were working to find out more.

Sitting just south of the equator, the area gets frequent heavy rains. This year has seen intense rainfall and flooding. In March, at least 23 people were killed by a landslide in a nearby province.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies