Selangor Journal
Locals gather amid the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, on May 24, 2024, in this obtained image. — Picture by REUTERS via EMMANUEL ERALIA

Over 2,000 buried alive in Papua New Guinea landslide

SYDNEY, May 27 — More than 2,000 people were buried alive by a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea (PNG) last week, the national disaster centre said today, as treacherous terrain and the difficulty of getting aid to the site raises the risk few survivors will be found.

The numbers of those buried around Yambali village in Enga province in the country’s north are based on estimates from local authorities which have been rising steadily since Friday’s landslide.

A United Nations (UN) agency put the estimated death toll at more than 670 people yesterday.

The National Disaster Centre raised the toll again to 2,000 in a letter to the UN yesterday that was released publicly today. The landslide also caused major destruction to buildings and food gardens.

“The situation remains unstable as the landslip continues to shift slowly, posing an ongoing danger to both the rescue teams and survivors alike,” according to the letter.

About 4,000 people were living near the affected area, CARE International PNG country director Justine McMahon told ABC Television today.

However, it is difficult to get an accurate estimate of the local population as PNG’s last credible census was in 2000, and many people live in remote mountainous villages. The country recently announced that a census would be conducted in 2024.

The unstable terrain, remote location and nearby tribal warfare are hampering relief efforts in Papua New Guinea.

Emergency crews, led by PNG Defence personnel, were on the ground, but the first excavator only reached the site late yesterday, according to a UN official.

Social media footage posted by villagers and local media teams showed people scaling rocks and digging with shovels, sticks, and their bare hands to find survivors. Women could be heard weeping in the background.

Six bodies have been retrieved so far. The UN said the number of possible deaths could change as rescue efforts were expected to continue for days.

PNG media today reported that residents had rescued a couple trapped under rubble after hearing their cries for help.

Johnson and Jacklyn Yandam told local NBC News that they were very grateful and described their rescue as a miracle.

“We thank God for saving our lives at that moment. We were certain that we were going to die but the big rocks did not crush us.

“It is really hard to explain as we got trapped for nearly eight hours, then got rescued. We believe we were saved for a purpose,” Jacklyn said.

About 1,250 people have been displaced by the landslide, which occurred in PNG’s Enga province early on Friday (May 24). Over 150 houses were buried and about 250 houses abandoned.

“The houses are buried under around eight metres (26.3 ft) of dirt. So there is quite a lot of debris to get through,” said CARE’s McMahon.

A view of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, on May 24, 2024, in this obtained image. — Picture by REUTERS via EMMANUEL ERALIA

Dangerous conditions

The UN migration agency said water continued to flow under the debris, making it extremely dangerous for residents and the rescue team to clear debris.

Its mission chief in PNG Serhan Aktoprak told ABC Television that emergency crews would continue to look for survivors until the residents asked them to stop.

The rescue team had eight vehicles, but he hopes to receive additional resources soon.

Tribal violence in the region has raised security concerns for road travel, with the military escorting convoys of rescue teams. Eight people were killed, and five shops and 30 houses burnt down on Saturday (May 25).

PNG gave arrest powers to its military in February amid an eruption of tribal violence that saw at least 26 men killed in an ambush.

The landslide hit a section of highway near the Porgera gold mine, operated by Barrick Gold through Barrick Niugini Ltd, its joint venture with China’s Zijin Mining. Barrick has said the mine has enough fuel on-site to operate for 40 days and other critical supplies for longer.

— Reuters

A view of the damage after a landslide in Maip Mulitaka, Enga province, Papua New Guinea, on May 24, 2024, in this obtained image. — Picture by REUTERS via EMMANUEL ERALIA

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