Papua New Guinea Landslide Triggers Mass Evacuations and Uncertain Death Toll

Death Toll from Papua New Guinea Landslide Rises to Over 670 as Rescue Efforts Continue

Thousands of residents have been ordered to evacuate from the path of an active landslide in Papua New Guinea after parts of a mountain collapsed, initially burying an estimated 2,000 people. The government issued the evacuation order on Tuesday.

Relief teams have been gradually making their way into the difficult-to-access northern Enga region since Friday, though officials said the odds of finding survivors were slim. Residents have been using shovels and their bare hands to search for survivors.

Death Toll from Papua New Guinea Landslide Rises to Over 670 as Rescue Efforts Continue

“The landslide area is very unstable. When we’re up there, we’re regularly hearing big explosions where the mountain is, there are still rocks and debris coming down,” Enga province disaster committee chairperson Sandis Tsaka told Reuters. “The landslide is still active, as people are digging through the rocks, more is still coming down.”

A state of emergency has been declared across the disaster zone and a neighboring area, with a combined population of between 4,500 to 8,000, although not all have been ordered to evacuate yet, Tsaka said. Military personnel have set up checkpoints and are helping move residents to evacuation centers.

Heavy equipment and aid have been slow to arrive due to the remote location, treacherous terrain, and tribal unrest in the area, forcing the military to escort the relief teams’ convoys.

Death Toll from Papua New Guinea Landslide Rises to Over 670 as Rescue Efforts Continue

More than 2,000 people were buried in the landslide, which occurred early Friday, according to the government. This is significantly higher than initial estimates by the U.N., which suggested more than 670 possible deaths. Former head of the local government, Jiman Yandam, estimated the dead at 162. Only five bodies have been recovered so far.

The variance in the total number of possible deaths reflects the difficulty in getting an accurate population estimate. The mountainous nation’s last credible census was in 2000, and a 2022 voter roll doesn’t include those under 18. Tsaka declined to specify the total death toll, saying he was not sure how many residents were in the area when the landslide occurred. “From preliminary estimates, we expect it to be a significant number, in the hundreds and it could go beyond but at this point we’d like to be careful with the number,” he said.

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