More than 100 people are believed to have lost their lives in the landslide that buried the village of Kaokalam in Papua New Guinea’s remote, mountainous Enga province. The landslide occurred around 3 a.m., approximately 370 miles northwest of the capital, Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea: More than 100 Feared Dead in Massive Landslide

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The landslide struck the village of Kaokalam in Enga Province. Kaokalam is situated approximately 600 kilometers (372 miles) northwest of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. The landslide occurred at around 3:00 AM local time on Friday, May 24, 2024.

More than 100 people are believed to be dead though the exact number is still unconfirmed. Local authorities and residents are providing initial estimates.

Over 100 homes were buried when the side of a nearby mountain gave way, flattening houses and trapping residents under rubble, rocks, and trees.

Janet Philemon, Caretaker and National Treasurer of the Papua New Guinea Red Crescent Society (PNGRCS), highlighted the casualty numbers due to the nature of rescue efforts. Enga Province Governor Peter Ipatas confirmed the loss of life and property damage.

The area experienced an earthquake a few days prior which may have contributed to the landslide’s occurrence, according to Janet Philemon.

The main highway leading into the community is blocked by the landslide, severely hindering rescue operations.

Community members are actively attempting to uncover those buried using whatever tools they have available.

Prime Minister James Marape stated that disaster officials, PNG Defence Force, and the Department of Works and Highways are mobilizing to provide relief and start recovery operations.

The provincial government, health and police officials, and international agencies are coordinating to reach the site.

An emergency response team comprising officials from the provincial governor’s office, police, defense forces, and local NGOs has been deployed.

Elizabeth Laruma, President of the Porgera Women in Business Association reported that the disaster occurred while people were asleep.

Ninga Role, a resident of Kaokalam lost four relatives in the landslide. He described the difficulty in locating bodies due to the presence of large stones, plants, and trees, which have complicated rescue operations.

Videos and images shared on social media depict locals clambering over rocks and rubble, desperately searching for survivors.

Papua New Guinea has a complex landscape with hundreds of tribes spread across its vast and diverse mountainous terrain.

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The country’s infrastructure challenges including limited roads and poor telecommunications exacerbate disaster response efforts.

Most of the population lives in rural areas making access to basic services like water, electricity, and sanitation difficult and costly to upgrade.

Papua New Guinea has experienced high crime rates and violence. Earlier this year, chaos erupted in the capital when police protested over a pay drop leading to looting and arson. Tribal violence has also been a recurring issue in the country’s restive highlands.

A villager who was away at the time of the disaster reported to Reuters that over 50 homes, many with people asleep inside were buried by the landslide.

Role stated that the death toll could be nearly 300, although this figure remains unverified by authorities.

He mentioned that his brother and cousin were among the dead and estimated that at least four of his relatives had perished.

He Stated, “There are some huge stones and plants, trees. The buildings collapsed. These things are making it hard to find the bodies fast.”

Prime Minister James Marape expressed his condolences and made sure that the authorities were responding swiftly.

He stated, “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.”

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The Prime Minister indicated that disaster officials, the PNG Defense Force, and the Department of Works and Highways were being dispatched to commence relief efforts, body recovery, and infrastructure reconstruction.

Elizabeth Laruma, who manages a women’s business association in Porgera, a nearby town, provided an account of the aftermath.

She confirmed that the entire village was flattened and estimates suggested that over 100 people might be buried beneath the debris.

She noted that the landslide had blocked the road between Porgera and the village, concerns about the town’s supply of fuel and goods.

Belinda Kora, a reporter based in Port Moresby highlighted the logistical challenges in accessing the affected area.

Helicopters are currently the only viable means of reaching the village located in the Highlands due to the main road being impassable.

Videos circulated on social media show locals desperately attempting to rescue individuals buried under rocks and trees.

Local media have reported that the landslide has disrupted operations at the Porgera Gold Mine, managed by Barrick Gold through Barrick Niugini Ltd, in partnership with China’s Zijin Mining.

A spokesperson from Barrick Niugini Ltd. stated that it was too early to determine the impact on the mine but assured that they had sufficient supplies to continue operations in the short term.

Papua New Guinea is composed of subsistence farmers and has a diverse cultural landscape with over 800 languages.

Government data reveals that 56% of social media users are based in Port Moresby with only 1.66 million people using the internet across the country. 85% of the population resides in rural areas.

The region has experienced intense rainfall and flooding this year contributing to the conditions that may have triggered the landslide. In March a nearby province suffered a similar fate when at least 23 people were killed by a landslide.

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