Landslide Buries More Than 2,000 People

A Papua New Guinea government representative has informed the United Nations that an estimated 2,000 individuals are feared to have perished in a recent landslide, a figure that is three times higher than the UN’s initial estimate of 670 fatalities. The government has officially requested international assistance in the wake of the disaster. The landslide, which occurred in the mountainous interior of the South Pacific island nation, has so far yielded only five recovered bodies, according to local authorities.

The acting director of Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Center, Luseta Laso Mana, stated in a letter to the United Nations resident coordinator that the landslide resulted in “major destruction” in Yambali village in Enga province, and is believed to have “buried more than 2,000 people alive”. The casualty estimates have varied significantly since the disaster, and the method used by officials to arrive at the current figure remains unclear.

The International Organization for Migration, which is collaborating closely with the government and playing a key role in the international response, has maintained its initial death toll estimate of 670, pending further evidence. Serhan Aktoprak, head of the UN migrant agency’s mission in Papua New Guinea, stated that while they cannot dispute the government’s figures, they are unable to comment on them at this time.

The death toll of 670 was based on calculations by Yambali village and Enga provincial officials that over 150 homes had been buried by the landslide, a significant increase from the previous estimate of 60 homes. The office of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has not yet provided an explanation for the government’s estimate of 2,000 fatalities.

Determining the scale of the disaster is challenging due to the remote location of the village, lack of telecommunications, and ongoing tribal warfare in the province, which necessitates military escorts for international relief workers and aid convoys. The national government’s lack of reliable census data further complicates efforts to determine the potential death toll.

The landslide also buried a 650-foot stretch of the province’s main highway under debris 20 to 26 feet deep, posing a significant obstacle for relief workers. Mana warned that the landslide would have a major economic impact on the entire country. The first piece of heavy earth-moving machinery, donated by a local builder, was brought in to assist villagers who have been using shovels and farming tools to search for bodies.

Mana and Papua New Guinea’s defense minister, Billy Joseph, flew to Yambali to assess the situation and determine whether the government needed to officially request more international support. Mana’s office posted a photo of him handing a local official a check for $130,000 to purchase emergency supplies for 4,000 displaced survivors.