About 2000 people feared buried in landslide in Papua New Guinea

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
4 Min Read

Nearly 2,000 people are feared trapped in a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea, CNN reported, citing the country's National Disaster Centre.

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Rescue workers are struggling to find any survivors in the remote area.

The landslide occurred on Friday last week in the mountainous Enga region of northern Papua New Guinea and the latest figures are significantly higher than earlier estimates.

Shortly after the disaster, the United Nations confirmed that at least 100 people may have been killed.

However, this was later revised to 670, according to an estimate by the head of the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) mission in the country, CNN reported.

But according to the latest estimate from Papua New Guinea's disaster agency, that may now be a huge underestimate.

“The landslide buried more than 2,000 people alive, caused massive damage to buildings, food gardens and had a major impact on the country's economic lifeline,” Lucette Lasso Mana, acting director of the National Disaster Centre, said in a letter to the United Nations.

“The situation remains unstable as the landslide is slowly expanding, posing a danger to both rescue teams and survivors,” he said, adding that the main highway in the area has been completely blocked due to the landslide.

“After an inspection by the team, it was determined that the damage was extensive and required immediate and collaborative action from all players,” Mana said, CNN reported.

The landslide struck at about 3 a.m. local time on Friday in the remote village of Kaoklam, about 600 kilometers (372 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, leaving a pile of rubble that humanitarian workers said was the size of four football pitches.

According to officials, more than 150 houses were reduced to rubble in Yambli village.

Officials said the area remained “highly vulnerable” as rocks continued to fall and the ground soil was exposed to ever-increasing pressure.

In particular, Papua New Guinea is home to about 10 million people. Reaching the affected area has been difficult due to its vast mountainous terrain and lack of roads.

Associate Professor Pierre Rognon from the University of Sydney's School of Civil Engineering stressed that finding survivors after a landslide is “particularly challenging” for rescuers.

“Landslides can destroy buildings and bury people under dozens of metres of mud,” he said.

“To make the situation worse, they can move structures and trap people hundreds of metres away. “Nobody can accurately predict where potential survivors might be located or where to begin searching for them.”

It is unclear what caused the landslide, but University of Adelaide geology professor Alan Collins said it occurred in an area with “considerable rainfall”.

“Although the landslide was not directly caused by the earthquake, frequent earthquakes caused by colliding plates create steep slopes and high mountains, which can be very unstable,” Collins said.

Collins said the rain could alter minerals, weakening the bedrock that builds the steep hills, CNN reported.

“Vegetation reduces this, because tree roots can stabilise the ground, and deforestation can make landslides more prevalent by destroying this biological network,” he said.

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