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25 June 2024

Massive landslide hits Papua New Guinea, many feared dead

Messenger Desk 

Published: 09:20, 25 May 2024

Massive landslide hits Papua New Guinea, many feared dead

Photo: Collected 

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 3:00 am 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 insearch of loved ones.