More than 670 people feared dead after Papua New Guinea landslide, UN says

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May 24, 2024. Emmanuel Eralia via REUTERS.

More than 670 people are thought to have have been killed by a massive landslide in northern Papua New Guinea.

The landslide levelled the mountainous Kaokalam village in Enga Province – about 370 miles (600km) northwest of the capital Port Moresby.

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The disaster hit the village of Kaokalam at approximately 3 a.m. local time on Friday May 24, leaving a scar of debris that humanitarian workers say is as big as four football pitches. The original estimate from the PNG Red Cross officials had placed the death toll “at around 100”

However, the UN International Organization for Migration on Sunday increased its estimate of the death toll to more than 670 as emergency responders and traumatized relatives gave up hope that any survivors will now be found.

Serhan Aktoprak, the Chief of Mission at the International Organization for Migration’s office in Papua New Guinea, has estimated that over 250 houses were abandoned and that roughly 1,250 people were displaced.

The region, in Enga Province, is densely populated, according to local officials, and has a young population. The authorities fear that many of the fatalities will be children under 15.

Conditions have made distribution difficult. As of Sunday afternoon, land was still sliding, rocks were falling and the soil was cracking from increased pressure and running groundwater. No earth-moving equipment had arrived, and people were searching for bodies using tools like spades and pitchforks, Mr. Aktoprak said.

The aftermath of a huge landslide that hit Papua New Guinea on Friday. Hundreds of people are thought to have been buried in the debris.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The region has seen tribal clashes over the past few months. On Saturday morning, a quarrel flared between two clans, raising safety fears for those traveling on the only road available. Eight died in the clash and dozens of houses were burned down, Mr. Aktoprak said.

When the landslide struck the village about 3 a.m. Friday, many residents were asleep. Some of the boulders that buried houses and cut off a major highway were larger than shipping containers.