Race to rescue trapped villagers

Papua New Guinea: Many feared dead in landslide

Emergency services are racing to reach villages hit by a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea’s isolated Enga province, where hundreds of people are feared dead.

A rapid response team made up of doctors and military personnel managed to reach the isolated landslide site, humanitarian agency Care Australia said.

Difficult terrain and damage to main roads have complicated their journey to the area, he added in a statement.

“The land continues to slide and move, and that makes it dangerous for people to operate,” UN official Serhan Aktoprak told AFP news agency.

The landslide buried hundreds of homes in the Enga highlands in the north of the southwestern Pacific island nation around 3:00 a.m. local time on Friday (17:00 GMT Thursday).

Residents in surrounding areas have described how trees and debris from a mountain collapse have buried parts of the community, leaving it isolated.

Road access to the area has been blocked, making helicopters the only way to reach the area, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Footage from the scene shows locals pulling bodies out from under rubble and trees as they traverse the terrain, strewn with giant rocks and uprooted trees.

Getty Images People gather at the site of a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, on May 24, 2024.fake images
Getty Images People gather at the site of a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, on May 24, 2024.fake images

It is not yet clear how many people are trapped under the rubble.

“While the area is not densely populated, our concern is that the death toll may be disproportionately high,” Care Australia said in a previous statement.

Amos Akem, MP for Enga province, said that according to reports from the ground, “the landslide buried more than 300 people and 1,182 houses.”

Quoted by The Guardian newspaper, Akem explained that rescue efforts have been hampered by a blocked road connecting the affected village of Yambali and the capital.

Yambali is located about 50 kilometers (31 mi) from Wabag, the provincial capital.

Speaking to the AP news agency, Aktoprak, which is the UN International Organization for Migration mission in Papua New Guinea, said the area affected by the landslide covered the size of three or four football fields.

Yambali village, he added, is home to 3,895 people.

Some houses in the village were saved from the landslide, Aktoprak said, but “given the magnitude of the disaster,” the death toll could be more than 100.

On Friday, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape said authorities were responding to the disaster.

He said the government is working with local officials to carry out “relief work, recovery of bodies and reconstruction of infrastructure.”

‘There are no houses left’

A resident of a nearby village said that when he arrived at the scene, “there were no houses (left).”

Speaking to Australian broadcaster ABC, Dominic Lau said everything was “just flat with dirt.”

“There was nothing, just rocks and dirt… there were no people or houses to see,” Lau added.

Enga Governor Peter Ipatas told AFP that “six villages” were affected by the landslide, which he called an “unprecedented natural disaster.”

Enga is more than 600 kilometers by road from the country’s capital, Port Moresby.

The Papua New Guinea Red Cross said earlier that an emergency response team consisting of officials from the provincial governor’s office, police, defense forces and local NGOs had been deployed to the scene.

Map showing Papua New Guinea and Australia

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