Over 2,000 Feared To Have Been Buried In Papua New Guinea Landslide

Image not from story. [Wikimedia Commons/Public/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CC BY 2.0 ]

Dana Abizaid Contributor
Font Size:

More than 2,000 people are feared to have been buried in a landslide which hit Papua New Guinea early Friday morning, CNN reported Monday, citing new estimates.

“The landslide buried more than 2000 people alive and caused major destruction to buildings, food gardens and caused major impact on the economic lifeline of the country,” Acting Director of the National Disaster Centre Lusete Laso Mana wrote to the United Nations, according to CNN.

“The situation remains unstable as the landslip continues to shift slowly, posing ongoing danger to both rescue teams and survivors alike,” he added, noting the landslide caused a complete blockage of the main highway to the area.

“Following the inspection conducted by the team, it was determined that the damages are extensive and require immediate and collaborative actions from all players.”

The increased death toll estimate by the UN’s International Organization for Migration follows first responders and local relatives reportedly giving up hope finding survivors in the aftermath of the disaster, according to the AP. The landslide, occurring at 3 a.m. local time Friday, reportedly spread devastation across an area as big as four soccer fields. It struck the remote village of Kaokalam, about 372 miles northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, according to CNN.

Serhan Aktoprak, a United Nations chief of mission, told the AP that initial calculations of destroyed homes came out to 60, but local officials updated that number to 150. (RELATED: ‘People Are Buried Under Rubble’: 15 Dead, Nearly 40 Injured After Two 6.3 Magnitude Earthquakes Hit Afghanistan)

“They are estimating that more than 670 people (are) under the soil at the moment,” Aktoprak told the AP.

Relief efforts have been hampered by unstable earth, local tribal warfare and limited heavy equipment, resulting in only five bodies and a leg of a possible sixth victim being recovered by Sunday, the AP reported.

While crews are giving up hope of finding survivors buried in rubble 20 to 26 feet deep, the national government is contemplating requesting more international support, according to the outlet.

On top of the increased estimated death count, officials believe the landslide has made another 250 houses unsafe due to still-shifting ground, leaving over 1,200 people homeless, the AP reported.

“People are coming to terms with this so there is a serious level of grieving and mourning,” Aktoprak said.

Aktoprak, who did not speculate on the potential for an even higher death toll, told the AP the new estimate was “not solid” since it was based on the average size of a regional household.

“It is difficult to say. We want to be quite realistic,” Aktoprak said. “We do not want to come up with any figures that would inflate the reality.”

The director of humanitarian agency CARE International, Justine McMahon, said the main priority was moving survivors to “more stable ground” and getting them food, water and shelter, according to the AP.

Authorities were still trying to assess the numbers of injured and missing Sunday, and Aktoprak said he expected the government to decide on requesting additional international aid by Tuesday, the AP reported.

Papa New Guinea is a diverse and developing South Pacific island nation of 10 million people who are mostly subsistence farmers, according to the outlet. 800 languages are reportedly spoken throughout the nation.