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More than 100 people are believed dead in a landslide in Papua New Guinea

Updated May 24, 2024 at 08:03 AM ET

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 hit Kaokalam village in Enga province, about 600 kilometers (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 have not confirmed that figure. Villagers said the number of people killed could be much higher.

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.

Australia, a near neighbor and Papua New Guinea's most generous provider of foreign aid, said the government stood ready to help.

“We send our heartfelt sympathies to the people of PNG following the landslide at Kaokalam village,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong posted on social media .

“The loss of life and destruction is devastating,” she added. “As friends and partners, Australia stands ready to assist in relief and recovery efforts.”

Videos on social media showed residents pulling out bodies buried under rocks and trees.

Elizabeth Laruma, who runs a women's business association in Porgera, a town in the same province near the Porgera Gold Mine, said 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 the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “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 supply of fuel and goods.

Village resident Ninga Role, who was away when the landslide struck, expects that at least four of his relatives died.

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

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.

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

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

Copyright 2024 NPR

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 Jefferson Public Radio]