Hundreds Feared Dead in Papua New Guinea Landslide

Unstable rubble and debris were complicating search and rescue efforts in rural Papua New Guinea on Saturday, a day after a massive landslide buried villages and killed at least three people. Local officials said the death toll was likely to be at least in the hundreds.

Nearly 4,000 people live in the three villages engulfed by the landslide early Friday, said Sandis Tsaka, the provincial administrator for Enga, which includes the affected area. He said the death toll was likely to be high because the landslide hit a densely populated area that is also a highly trafficked corridor.

“Our people will consider it of biblical proportions,” he said. “We are looking for all the help and support we can get to address the humanitarian disaster of proportions we’ve never seen in this part of the world.”

Three bodies were pulled out of the rubble on Friday, and five people, including a child, were treated for their injuries, according to Mr. Tsaka.

The disaster struck around 3 a.m., catching most residents off guard and sending huge boulders, some larger than shipping containers, tumbling down. At least 60 homes were buried under as much as 20 feet of debris, Mr. Tsaka said. At least a 500-foot section of the Porgera Highway, the main thoroughfare connecting the area, was inundated, he said.

The landslide buried an area equivalent to about three or four soccer fields, said Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of mission for the International Organization for Migration’s office in Papua New Guinea. A humanitarian aid convoy, after some delays, reached the affected villages Saturday afternoon to deliver tarps and water, he said.

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