More than 670 people estimated to be buried and feared dead after massive landslide in Papua New Guinea

26 May 2024, 09:50 | Updated: 26 May 2024, 10:22

People cross over the landslide area to get to the other side in Yambali village, Papua New Guinea, Friday, May 24, 2024
People cross over the landslide area to get to the other side in Yambali village, Papua New Guinea, Friday, May 24, 2024. Picture: Alamy

By Charlie Duffield

The estimated death toll from a landslide in northern Papua New Guinea has soared to more than 670.

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Officials in the Enga province say only six bodies have been recovered so far.

Serhan Aktoprak, chief of the UN migration agency's mission in the South Pacific island nation, said the revised death toll is based on calculations by Yambali village and Enga provincial officials that more than 150 homes had been buried by Friday's landslide.

The previous estimate had been 60 homes.

Local officials had initially put the death toll on Friday at 100 or more.

Only six bodies had been recovered by Sunday.

Rescuers had earlier said they had given up hope of finding more survivors under earth and rubble up to 26ft deep after the landslide hit Yambali a few hours before dawn on Friday.

Survivors are being moved to safer ground as unstable earth and tribal warfare, which is rife in the area, threatens the rescue effort.

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An injured person is carried on a stretcher to seek medical assistance after a landslide in Yambali village, Papua New Guinea
An injured person is carried on a stretcher to seek medical assistance after a landslide in Yambali village, Papua New Guinea. Picture: Alamy

Mr Aktoprak said: "Hopes to take the people out alive from the rubble have diminished now.

"People are coming to terms with this so there is a serious level of grieving and mourning."

Heavy earth-moving equipment is yet to arrive at the mountainous location 370 miles north-west of the capital Port Moresby.

Government authorities are establishing evacuation centres on safer ground on either side of the massive swathe of debris that covers an area the size of three to four football fields and has cut the main road through the province.

Mr Aktoprak said working in the debris is very dangerous and the land is still sliding.

As well as the blocked road, convoys that have transported food, water and other essential supplies since Saturday to the devastated village have faced risks related to tribal fighting in Tambitanis, which is about halfway along the route from the nearest large town.

Papua New Guinea soldiers are providing security for the convoys.

Eight locals were killed in a clash between two rival clans on Saturday in a longstanding dispute unrelated to the landslide.

Around 30 homes and five retail businesses were burned down in the fighting, local officials said.

Justine McMahon, country director of the humanitarian agency Care International, said moving survivors to "more stable ground" is an immediate priority, along with providing them with food, water and shelter.

Medical facilities were buried along with houses, several small businesses, a guest house, a school and a petrol station, officials said.

Ms McMahon said there are other health facilities in the region, the provincial government is sending health workers and the World Health Organisation is mobilising staff.

"There will be some support, but it's such a spread out area that I think it will be quite a challenging situation," she said.

"The scale of this disaster is quite immense."

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