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Massive landslide hits PNG, many feared dead
Published on: Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Massive landslide hits PNG, many feared dead
People gather at the site of a landslide in Maip Mulitaka in Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province.
PORT MORESBY: A massive landslide struck remote villages in Papua New Guinea’s highlands Friday, with many homes buried and scores of residents feared dead.

The disaster hit an isolated part of Enga province at around 3am local time, according to government officials, when many villagers were at home asleep.

Provincial governor Peter Ipatas told AFP that “there has been a big landslide causing loss of life and property”. 

He later said “six villages” had been affected and described it as an “unprecedented natural disaster”. 

Three bodies have so far been recovered, but there are fears that hundreds more may be entombed. The true toll may take days or weeks to become clear.

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”.

Others “heard a huge sound from rocks falling down and then escaped. But some went to escape, on their way they were killed by falling trees, rolling rocks”, he said. 

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

The landslide left a vast brown scar of car-size boulders, felled trees and dirt that stretched down toward the valley floor.

The twisted remains of corrugated tin shelters and an overturned minibus could be seen at the foot of rubble.

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

Some became instant rescuers, donning wellington boots, strapping on head torches, picking up machetes and long-handled axes to help clear the rubble.

Children could be heard crying as their mothers clambered over the rocks in search of loved ones.

Near dusk on Friday, rescuers were using a mechanical digger and hand tools to try to unearth any survivors.

A rapid response team of medics, military, police, engineers and UN agency personnel has been dispatched to the area.

Hospitals, health workers, relief agencies and government personnel across the region have been placed on an “active state of alertness”.

Prime Minister James Marape said the team would be there to help with “relief work, (the) recovery of bodies, and reconstruction of infrastructure.”

“I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives” he said.

Vincent Pyati, president of the local Community Development Association, told AFP 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. The number of victims is unknown.”

Nickson Pakea, president of the nearby Porgera Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said there are fears that up to 300 people may have been there at the time, a number that could not be confirmed.

Aid agencies including the Papua New Guinea Red Cross and CARE said they were on standby and working to find out more.

Red Cross PNG interim secretary general Janet Philemon told AFP the landslide location was remote and that it could take up to two days for emergency services or aid to reach the area.

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