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Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Death Tolls in Papua New Guinea Landslide Rises to 670


Sun 26 May 2024 | 06:28 PM
Israa Farhan

A massive landslide has claimed the lives of more than 670 people in a remote village in northern Papua New Guinea, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported on Sunday.

According to Serhan Aktobrak, the head of the IOM mission in the South Pacific nation, the revised death toll is based on accounts from the village of Kaokalem in Enga Province, located about 600 kilometers northwest of the capital, Port Moresby.

The landslide, which occurred on Friday, destroyed more than 150 homes and resulted in the devastating loss of life.

The government of Papua New Guinea is assessing whether to formally request additional international support.

Aktobrak mentioned that rescue teams have lost hope of finding survivors under the debris, which is buried at depths between 6 to 8 meters (about 20 to 26 feet).

"People are beginning to come to terms with the tragedy, leading to significant mourning and grief," he said.

He also noted that working through the debris is extremely hazardous as the ground remains unstable.

Authorities are establishing evacuation centers on safer ground on either side of the vast debris field, which spans an area equivalent to three to four football fields and has severed the main highway across the province.

The Associated Press reported that convoys delivering food, water, and other essential supplies to the devastated village, located about 60 kilometers (35 miles) from the provincial capital, faced tribal conflict in the village of Tambitanis, halfway along the highway.

Despite efforts by Papua New Guinea soldiers to secure the convoys, eight locals were killed in a clash between two rival clans on Saturday, a dispute unrelated to the landslide. Approximately 30 homes and five shops were burned during the conflict.

Aktobrak expressed concerns that while tribal fighters might not target the relief convoys, opportunistic criminals could exploit the chaos to do so.

The longstanding tribal warfare casts doubt on the official estimates that nearly 4,000 people were living in the village when a section of Mount Mongalo collapsed.

Justine McMahon, the country director for the humanitarian organization CARE International, emphasized that relocating survivors to more stable ground, along with providing them with food, water, and shelter, is an immediate priority, efforts that are being led by the military.

Although Papua New Guinea lies in the tropical zone, the village is situated at an altitude of 2,000 meters (about 6,600 feet) above sea level, where temperatures are significantly cooler.