Rescuers fear new slips at deadly Papua New Guinea landslide

The country has one of the wettest climates in the world, with the heaviest downpours concentrated in the humid highland interior


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Photo by AFP
Photo by AFP

Published: Mon 27 May 2024, 8:07 AM

Last updated: Mon 27 May 2024, 9:18 AM

Rescuers digging through mud and rocks at a Papua New Guinea landslide that killed an estimated 670 people say they are being obstructed by falling debris, dangerous terrain and tribal fighting along a key supply route.

Papua New Guinea informed the UN on Monday that more than 2,000 people were buried in a massive landslide that swept over a remote village.

"The landslide buried more than 2,000 people alive and caused major destruction," the country's national disaster centre told the UN office in Port Moresby.

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A remote hillside village in Enga province was almost wiped out when a chunk of Mount Mungalo collapsed in the early hours of Friday morning, burying scores of homes and the people sleeping inside them.

Locals have been using shovels and pieces of wood to find bodies under the landslide -- a mix of car-sized boulders, uprooted trees and churned-up earth that is thought to be up to eight metres (26 feet) deep.

"The landmass is still sliding, rocks are falling from the mountain," according to UN migration agency official Serhan Aktoprak.

Streams of water were flowing between the soil and debris while cracks were appearing in land adjacent to the landslip, Aktoprak said.

"This might trigger a further sliding," the UN official warned, posing a "serious risk" both to rescuers and people living in the area.

Aktoprak said his colleagues had to flee falling rocks at the site at the weekend.

The estimated death toll climbed to 670 over the weekend after local leaders and disaster workers reassessed the size of the population lying beneath mud and rubble spanning almost four football fields in length.

Five bodies and the leg of a sixth had been pulled from the debris by Saturday night.

More than 1,000 people have been displaced by the catastrophe, aid agencies have estimated, with food gardens and water supplies destroyed.

Locals said the landslip may have been triggered by heavy rains that have saturated the region in recent weeks.

Papua New Guinea has one of the wettest climates in the world, according to the World Bank, with the heaviest downpours concentrated in the humid highland interior.

Research has found shifting rainfall patterns linked to climate change could exacerbate the risk of landslides.

Since the start of the year, the country has experienced multiple earthquakes, floods and landslides, stretching the resources of emergency services.


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