Hundreds feared dead after huge landslide in Papua New Guinea

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The huge landslide engulfed the Engan village of Yambali in the Papua New Guinea highlands early today
The huge landslide engulfed the Engan village of Yambali in the Papua New Guinea highlands early today. Image: Amos Titus/FB

By Eleisha Foon, RNZ Pacific senior journalist

Scores of people have died in a huge landslide which has struck a remote village in the Papua New Guinean highlands.

The landslide reportedly hit Yambali village in Enga Province, about 600 km north-west of Port Moresby.

The landslip has buried homes and food gardens, leaving what locals say is an estimated 3000 buried under a mass landslide.

Papua New Guinea authorities are yet to officially confirm the number of deaths.

In a post on Facebook tonight, PNG Prime Minister James Marape passed on his condolences to the families of those who had died in the landslide.

Disaster officials, PNG Defence Force and the Department of Works and Highways officers were being sent to meet with provincial and district officials in Enga and start relief work, recovery of bodies, and reconstruction of infrastructure, he said.

“I am yet to be fully briefed on the situation. However, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the landslide disaster in the early hours of this morning.”

Emergency response team
The Enga provincial administration have met to assemble an emergency response team to assess the damage.

It called on local health facilities and non-government organisations to be on stand-by to assist with recovery and relief efforts.

A huge landslide has hit the Yambali village in Enga Province in Papua New Guinea on 24 May, 2024.
The huge landslide that has hit Yambali village in Enga Province in Papua New Guinea on 24 May, 2024. Image: RNZ/Scott Waide

PNG police told RNZ Pacific correspondent Scott Waide that at least 50 houses had been destroyed. Waide said the average Papua New Guinean family consisted roughly of eight to 10 people a household.

Residents on the ground say they have lost family members and are retrieving bodies.

Community leader Jethro Tulin told RNZ Pacific the catastrophe wiped out the village, which had a population of about 3000.

“It was a massive landslide . . . occured around 3am last night [early Friday]. People were sleeping . . .  the whole village is covered.”

He said a team from Wabag, the provincial capital, had been sent to investigate the scene.

The ABC first reported residents saying that they estimated “100-plus” deaths but authorities were yet to confirm this figure.

Satellite map view of Enga Province in Papua New Guinea.
Satellite map view of Enga province in Papua New Guinea. Image: Google Maps/RNZ

Yambali village is a two-hour drive from the Porgera gold mine.

The catastrophic destruction is blocking access to the mine, forcing a usually bustling operation to come to a stand still.

The main highway to Porgera has also been closed off.

Four people have been rescued but with the main highway closed authorities say it will be difficult to get heavy machinery to the village to help in the rescue and recovery efforts.

Special equipment needed to retrieve bodies
Another resident told RNZ Pacific locals were trying to retrieve bodies but required heavy-duty equipment to remove massive rocks and debris and are awaiting government and non-government organisation (NGO) support.

They say it could take weeks to recover thousands of bodies trapped under a landslide.

A nearby resident, Mick Michael, said rescue efforts would likely turn to recovery efforts for bodies.

“I think two or three people were discovered already. It is an entire community buried by the landslide.

“You can estimate 3000 people buried. It is really a big landslides with big rocks. Witihin a week or so, it will take time to discover those bodies with the help of machines and trucks.”

He said residents were calling on the government of Papua New Guinea and NGO’s for support.

Images on social media platform Facebook show the enormity of the landslide, with debris across houses and vehicles left in the wake of falling boulders and trees.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

A huge landslide has hit the Yambali village in Enga Province in Papua New Guinea on 24 May, 2024.
The huge landslide that has buried Yambali village. Image: RNZ/Scott Waide
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