More than 100 feared dead in massive landslide in Papua New Guinea

Melbourne, Australia – More than 100 people are believed to have died in a landslide that buried a village in a remote area of ​​Papua New Guinea on Friday, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported.

The landslide reportedly hit the village of Kaokalam in Enga province, about 370 miles northwest of Port Moresby, the capital of the South Pacific island nation, at approximately 3 a.m. local time, ABC reported.

Residents say current estimates of the death toll exceed 100, although authorities have not confirmed that figure. Villagers said the number of people killed could be much higher.

Villager Ninga Role told Reuters that more than 50 houses, many with people sleeping inside, were buried when the landslide occurred. He said the death toll was nearly 300, with his brother and his cousin among the dead. It was unclear where he got his information from.

Role, who was away when the landslide occurred, told The Associated Press that he expects at least four of his relatives to have died. “There are huge stones, plants and trees. The buildings collapsed,” Role said. “These things make it difficult to find the bodies quickly.”

Videos on social media show locals removing bodies that were buried under rocks and trees.

People gather at the site of a massive landslide in Enga province, Papua New Guinea, on May 24, 2024.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Papua New Guinea government and police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth Laruma, who runs a women’s business association in Porgera, a town in the same province near the Porgera gold mine, said houses in the town were flattened when a mountainside gave way.

“It happened when people were still sleeping at dawn and the whole town collapsed,” Laruma told ABC. “From what I can guess, this is more than 100 people buried underground.”

The landslide blocked the road between Porgera and the village, he said, raising concerns about the town’s own supply of fuel and goods.

People gather at the site of a massive landslide in Enga province, Papua New Guinea, on May 24, 2024.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

Port Moresby-based ABC reporter Belinda Kora said authorities had yet to make any official comment more than 12 hours after the disaster.

Kora said the helicopter was the only way to access the town, which is in the inland mountainous region known as the Highlands with the main road closed.

Reuters reports that local media said the landslide affected operations at the Porgera gold mine, run by Barrick Gold through Barrick Niugini Ltd, a joint venture with China’s Zijin Mining. Barrick Gold did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment outside normal business hours.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse and developing nation, mostly subsistence farmers who speak 800 languages. There are few roads outside the larger cities.

With 10 million inhabitants, it is also the most populous nation in the South Pacific after Australia, which is home to about 27 million.

Telecommunications are poor, particularly outside Port Moresby, where government data shows 56% of the country’s social media users reside. Only 1.66 million people in the entire country use the Internet and 85% of the population lives in rural areas.

Located just south of the equator, the area experiences frequent heavy rain, Agence France-Presse notes, adding that this year there has been heavy rain and flooding. At least 23 people died in a landslide in a nearby province in March.

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