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Death toll rises to 670 as horror of PNG landslides becoming shockingly clear

The deadly impact of a landslide in Papua New Guinea has become clearer with at least 670 people feared to have been killed, the UN’s migration agency estimates.

May 27, 2024, updated May 27, 2024
In this photo provided by the UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers carry a coffin during a funeral procession in Yambali village in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Sunday, May 26, 2024. The International Organization for Migration feared Sunday the death toll from a massive landslide is much worse than what authorities initially estimated. (Kafuri Yaro/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

In this photo provided by the UNDP Papua New Guinea, villagers carry a coffin during a funeral procession in Yambali village in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, Sunday, May 26, 2024. The International Organization for Migration feared Sunday the death toll from a massive landslide is much worse than what authorities initially estimated. (Kafuri Yaro/UNDP Papua New Guinea via AP)

 

Serhan Aktoprak, the International Organisation for Migration’s head of mission for the Pacific country, told Australian media that the scale of the disaster was much greater than initially thought.

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.

More than 4,000 people live in the affected area, according to reports, although it is unclear how many were present when the landslide occurred.

The United Nations on Sunday confirmed the deaths of five people whose bodies have been recovered. At least 20 women and children have also been injured.

One village in the area, Yambili, disappeared under the landslide, the local newspaper Post Courier reported on Saturday. In the region, at least 150 houses are believed to be buried under 6 to 8 metres of mud.

The inaccessibility of the region has complicated rescue efforts and hopes of finding survivors are diminishing quickly. The area is characterised by tropical forests and a huge mountain range with rugged valleys, some of which are not accessible by road and can only be reached by air.

The terrain surrounding the disaster zone in Enga province also remains dangerous and unstable, prompting the evacuation of about 1,250 survivors, Aktoprak said.

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Aktoprak described the difficulties at the scene, saying people had to “run away from the site because of the increased danger as rocks nonstop keep falling and the land continues to slide.”

Despite the difficulties, rescue efforts are continuing, involving national emergency response teams, police, the army and the UN.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday offered the Papua New Guinea government help with rescue efforts and reconstruction. Australia and the United States have also offered support.

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

Despite being rich in minerals, timber, oil and gas, its history of colonialism, political instability and mismanagement of resources has kept its people impoverished.

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