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Devastating Landslide Rocks Remote Papua New Guinea Village, Hundreds Feared Buried

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A catastrophic landslide struck a remote village in Papua New Guinea’s rugged highlands region early Friday morning, unleashing a torrent of rocks, mud, and debris that engulfed homes and trapped an estimated 670 residents beneath the rubble. As rescue efforts intensify, authorities grapple with daunting challenges, from treacherous terrain to tribal conflicts, in their race against time to find survivors.

More Than 670 Dead In Papua New Guinea Landslide

Landslide Obliterates Yambali Village

The once-thriving village of Yambali, nestled in the Enga province, bore the brunt of nature’s fury when a massive chunk of Mount Mungalo collapsed without warning. Eyewitnesses recount a deafening rumble that shattered the pre-dawn silence, followed by a deluge of earth and boulders that swallowed an estimated 150 homes, leaving a trail of destruction spanning an area equivalent to three or four football fields.

Catastrophic Loss of Life

Initial reports from local officials placed the death toll at 100 or more, but as the scale of the disaster unfolded, the grim reality became increasingly apparent. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) revised the estimated number of casualties to a staggering 670, a figure based on calculations by village and provincial authorities regarding the number of buried homes.

Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the IOM’s mission in Papua New Guinea, solemnly stated, “They are estimating that more than 670 people are under the soil at the moment.” However, he cautioned that the estimate, derived from the average family size per household, might not be entirely accurate, emphasizing the organization’s commitment to providing realistic figures.

Rescue Efforts Hampered by Daunting Obstacles

As emergency responders race against the clock, they face a multitude of challenges that hinder their progress. The sheer depth of the debris, ranging from 20 to 26 feet, has diminished hopes of finding survivors, prompting crews to shift their focus to recovery operations.

Unstable Ground and Tribal Conflicts

The unstable ground, exacerbated by shifting earth and groundwater seeping through the rubble, poses significant risks to rescue teams. Additionally, the ever-present threat of tribal warfare, a longstanding issue in the Papua New Guinea Highlands, has further complicated the rescue efforts.

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Convoys transporting essential supplies to the devastated village from the provincial capital, Wabag, have encountered perilous situations due to clashes between rival clans in the village of Tambitanis, located halfway along the route. Papua New Guinea soldiers have been deployed to provide security for the convoys, but concerns persist regarding potential opportunistic crimes, such as carjackings or robberies, amid the chaos.

Survivors Relocated, International Aid Sought

In the aftermath of the landslide, approximately 250 additional homes have been condemned due to the continued instability of the ground, leaving an estimated 1,250 people homeless. Government authorities have established evacuation centers on safer ground to accommodate the displaced residents.

The national government is actively considering whether to officially request international assistance, recognizing the overwhelming nature of the disaster. Countries like the United States and Australia, a close neighbor and a generous provider of foreign aid to Papua New Guinea, have already expressed their readiness to support the relief efforts.

Assessing the Damage and Casualties

While the full extent of the damage and casualties is still being evaluated, the initial reports paint a grim picture. As of Sunday, only five bodies and a leg of a sixth victim had been recovered, underscoring the immense challenge faced by rescue teams. Seven individuals, including a child, had received medical treatment by Saturday, but details regarding their conditions remain scarce.

Justine McMahon, the country director of the humanitarian agency CARE International, emphasized the immediate priorities of relocating survivors to more stable ground and providing them with essential supplies such as food, water, and shelter. The military is leading these efforts.

Conflicting Population Estimates Add Uncertainty

Longstanding tribal warfare has cast doubt on the official estimate that nearly 4,000 people were residing in the village when the landslide struck. The count, which is years old, fails to account for individuals who had relocated to the village more recently to escape clan violence that authorities have been unable to contain.

Local authorities acknowledged on Sunday that the village’s population was substantially higher than the official estimate of 4,000 when the limestone mountainside sheared away, but a revised figure has yet to be determined.

Assessing the Trigger: Heavy Rains or Climate Change?

While the exact cause of the landslide remains under investigation, locals have speculated that heavy rains saturating the region in recent weeks might have played a role in destabilizing the slope. Papua New Guinea is known for its wet climate, with the humid highland interior experiencing some of the heaviest downpours globally.

However, some researchers have suggested that shifting rainfall patterns linked to climate change could exacerbate the risk of landslides in the region. Since the beginning of the year, Papua New Guinea has experienced multiple earthquakes, floods, and landslides, stretching the resources of emergency services to their limits.

International Support and Condolences

The international community has responded with an outpouring of support and condolences. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his country’s readiness to contribute to relief and reconstruction efforts, while US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden conveyed their heartfelt sympathies for the loss of life and devastation caused by the landslide.

Rescue Efforts Continue Amidst Challenges

Despite the daunting challenges, rescue crews remain undeterred in their efforts to locate potential survivors. Social media footage shared by villagers and local media teams depicts harrowing scenes of people scaling rocks, digging with shovels, sticks, and bare hands, while the anguished cries of grieving women echo in the background.

Heavy equipment, including excavators and diggers, is essential for the rescue operation, but its arrival has been delayed due to the blocked main road. Currently, the only access to the village is via helicopter, further complicating the logistics of transporting the necessary machinery.

Resilience and Determination in the Face of Adversity

In the wake of this devastating tragedy, the resilience and determination of the people of Papua New Guinea shine through. Residents have already rescued a couple trapped under the rubble after hearing their cries for help, demonstrating the unwavering spirit of the community.

As the rescue efforts continue, the world watches with bated breath, hoping for a miracle amidst the rubble. The people of Papua New Guinea, no strangers to the challenges posed by their rugged terrain and diverse cultural landscape, stand united in their resolve to overcome this latest calamity, drawing strength from their deep-rooted traditions and unwavering resilience.


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