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More than 100 feared dead in massive landslide in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea landslide: What to know
Massive, deadly Papua New Guinea landslide: What to know 03:29

Melbourne, Australia — More than 100 people are believed to have been killed Friday in a landslide that buried a village in a remote, mountainous part of Papua New Guinea, and an emergency response is underway, the South Pacific island nation's leader and news media said.

The landslide reportedly hit Kaokalam village in Enga province, about 370 miles northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, at roughly 3 a.m., Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Residents said estimates of the death toll were above 100, although authorities haven't confirmed that figure. Villagers said the number of people killed could be much higher.

Villager Ninga Role told Reuters more than 50 homes, many with people asleep inside, were buried when the landslide hit. He said the death toll was nearly 300, with his brother and cousin among the dead. It was unclear where he got his information.

Role, who was away when the landslide struck, told The Associated Press he expects at least four of his relatives have died. "There are some huge stones and plants, trees. The buildings collapsed," Role said. "These things are making it hard to find the bodies fast." 

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," Marape said in a statement.

"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," he added.

Videos on social media show locals pulling bodies out that were buried under rocks and trees.

People gather at the site of a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea's Enga Province on May 24, 2024.  STR / AFP via Getty Images

The Papua New Guinea government and police didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Elizabeth Laruma, who runs a women's business association in Porgera, a town in the same province near the Porgera Gold Mine, said 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," Laruma told ABC. "From what I can presume, it's about 100-plus people who are buried beneath the ground."

The landslide blocked the road between Porgera and the village, she said, raising concerns about the town's own supply of fuel and goods.

People gather at the site of a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea's Enga Province on May 24, 2024. STR / AFP via Getty Images

Belinda Kora, a Port Moresby-based ABC reporter, said helicopters were the only way of accessing the village, which is in the mountainous interior region known as the Highlands, with the main road closed. 

Reuters reports that local media said the landslide affected operations at the Porgera gold mine, which is run by Barrick Gold through Barrick Niugini Ltd, a joint venture with China's Zijin Mining.

A spokesperson told Reuters it was too soon to know whether there had been any damage to the mine, which had enough supplies to operate normally in the short term.

Papua New Guinea is a diverse, developing nation of mostly subsistence farmers with 800 languages. There are few roads outside the larger cites.

With 10 million people, it is also the most populous South Pacific nation after Australia, which is home to some 27 million.

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

Located just south of the equator, the area gets frequent heavy rains, Agence France-Presse points out, adding that there's been intense rainfall and flooding this year. At least 23 people were killed by a landslide in a nearby province in March. 

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