More than 100 feared dead in remote region of Papua New Guinea hit by deadly landslide

More than 100 people are feared dead in a remote village in the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea after a landslide flattened homes and buried people alive while they were sleeping, officials said Friday.

The disaster hit the village of Kaokalam in Enga Province, about 600 kilometers (372 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, at about 3 a.m. local time (1 p.m. ET, Thursday).

The remoteness of the affected village, home to nearly 4,000 people, is hindering rescue efforts, according to the Chief of Mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the country.

“The debris is as big as approximately three to four football fields, and is blocking the lifeline of the province’s main highway, which is making the relief efforts all the more difficult,” Serhan Aktoprak told CNN.

“It’s already dark. It’s already night time in Papua New Guinea. There’s no power to continue the relief efforts. Only with sunrise will the [IOM] teams be returning,” Aktoprak said.

He added that three bodies had so far been recovered, but the death toll is likely to increase because of the size of the landslide.

The number of people killed or missing is “very fluid,” but more than 100 are believed to be dead, Janet Philemon, Caretaker and National Treasurer of the Papua New Guinea Red Crescent Society (PNGRCS), told CNN.

The local community has been scrambling to reach survivors “with whatever tools they have at their disposal,” Philemon said.

“The community themselves are responding, trying to bring out and uncover those that have been buried under the landslide,” she added.

She said that an earthquake had hit the area a few days prior, which she believed could have contributed to the cause of the landslide.

Footage of the aftermath carried by AFP showed a wide scar of mud and rocks on a steep mountainside slope and locals clambering to look for survivors.

Rescuers are trying to reach the remote village in Enga Province. - AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers are trying to reach the remote village in Enga Province. - AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister James Marape said in an earlier statement, reported by the ABC and Reuters, that his government had sent officials from the country’s disaster agency, defence force, and Department of Works and Highways to meet Enga’s provincial and district authorities, and carry out the rescue and relief efforts, as well as the reconstruction of infrastructure.

“I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the landslide disaster,” he said,

In comments reported by the ABC, officials said houses were flattened when the side of a nearby mountain gave way.

CNN has reached out to local authorities, including Ipatas, as well as the national police and the country’s disaster management agency.

A Pacific nation home to around 10 million people, Papua New Guinea is rich in resources, but its economy has long trailed those of its neighbors, and it has one of the highest crime rates in the world.

Violence remains widespread. Chaos erupted in the capital earlier this year after police walked off the job in protest over a drop in their pay, which government officials later blamed on a computer glitch in the payroll system. Shops were looted and buildings set on fire during the disturbance.

Hundreds of tribes are spread across the country’s remote and often inaccessible terrain. But its vast and diverse mountainous landscape, as well as a lack of roads, has made it difficult and costly to upgrade basic services like water, electricity and sanitation.

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