Papua New Guinea landslide: hundreds dead in remote northern region

Six villages in Enga province’s Porgera-Paiela district covered in disaster

More than 300 people have been killed in a landslide in a remote region in northern Papua New Guinea, a politician has said, as emergency teams rushed to the area.

Amos Akem, an MP for Enga province, said the landslide struck Yambali village, about two hours’ drive from the provincial capital, Wabag, in the early hours of Friday. The road to Yambali from the capital is blocked, hampering relief efforts.

“From reports gathered on the ground, the landslide buried more than 300 people and 1,182 houses,” Mr Akem said.

National authorities have still to give an official death toll. Early estimates put it at about 100 people.


The chief of the International Organisation for Migration’s mission in Papua New Guinea, Serhan Aktoprak, said the area affected was the size of three or four football fields, and home to 3,895 people. He said some houses in the village had escaped, but that the total number of casualties was not yet known.

“The land still continues sliding, therefore it makes it very difficult to operate on,” Mr Aktoprak said, citing first-hand reports from his staff and others deployed from Wabag to the affected village.

Mr Aktoprak, who spoke to Associated Press by phone from the Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, said that “given the scale of the disaster,” he feared that the death toll could be higher than the original estimates.

Enga’s provincial administrator, Sandis Tsaka, said emergency response teams had been sent to the area, including disaster, police and health workers as the extent of the damaged was assessed.

“The devastating landslide which is being described as an unprecedented natural disaster occurred early hours of this morning ... causing substantial damages to property and human lives which are currently unaccounted for,” Mr Tsaka said.

Mr Tsaka called for support for the national government and other organisations to help victims of the disaster.

Pictures posted to social media showed residents scaling huge rocks, scattered among tree trunks, and debris left by the landslide.

The prime minister, James Marape, said authorities were responding and he would release information about the destruction and loss of life when it was available.

“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,” Mr Marape said. “We are sending in disaster officials, PNG Defense Force, and the Department of Works and Highways to ... start relief work, recovery of bodies, and reconstruction of infrastructure.”

Elizabeth Laruman, who runs a business in the area, told Australian media that village houses were flattened when the side of a mountain gave way. “It has occurred when people were still asleep in the early hours, and the entire village has gone down,” Ms Laruma told the ABC.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation of mostly subsistence farmers with 800 languages spoken. There are few roads outside the larger cites. With 10 million people, it is also the most populous south Pacific country after Australia.

Telecommunications are poor, particularly outside Port Moresby, where government data shows 56 per cent of social media users live. Only 1.66 million people in the country use the internet and 85 per cent of the population live in rural areas.

– Guardian. Additional reporting: Reuters/AP