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26 May, 2024 14:46

Papua New Guinea landslide death toll likely over 670 – UN body

International Organization for Migration’s estimate comes after natural disaster obliterates one village and impacts several more
Papua New Guinea landslide death toll likely over 670 – UN body

The UN's International Organization for Migration fears that Friday’s massive landslide in Papua New Guinea, which buried an entire village, has claimed more than 670 lives. Local authorities initially estimated that the natural disaster had resulted in 100 fatalities or more.

Tragedy struck when a side of Mount Mungalo, located in a remote northern area of the South Pacific island nation, sheared off and completely covered Yambali village with a mix of rocks, mud and uprooted trees. According to a statement on Saturday by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs, more than six municipalities have been affected to some extent.

The disaster zone is located some 600 kilometers (373 miles) away from the capital, Port Moresby.

Speaking to Associated Press (AP) on Sunday, Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the migration agency’s mission in Papua New Guinea, said that local authorities “are estimating that more than 670 people [are] under the soil at the moment.”

He explained that the initial figure had been based on the assumption that a total of 60 households had been affected, while in fact this number stands at more than 150.

Aktoprak warned that even the revised death toll was “not solid,” as it was based on the average population figures per household in the region.

“It is difficult to say. We want to be quite realistic,” the migration agency’s representative told reporters, adding that “we do not want to come up with any figures that would inflate the reality.”

Meanwhile, local authorities acknowledged on Sunday that the population of the destroyed village had exceeded the originally estimated 4,000 residents, stopping short, however, of venturing any revised number.

According to AP, so far rescuers working at the site have only managed to recover five bodies and a limb belonging to a sixth victim, the first excavator having joined the effort from Sunday only. The news agency also reported that search teams were no longer holding out hope of finding survivors under the rubble.

The numbers of injured and missing are also still being assessed as of Sunday.

Citing local officials, AP claimed that, in addition to the buried households, approximately 250 had been deemed unfit for human habitation in the wake of the landslide, leaving at least 1,250 persons homeless.

The government has begun setting up evacuation centers some distance away from the danger zone, with ground conditions remaining unstable in the affected area.

The delivery of humanitarian aid is further compounded by tribal hostilities in the region, with military personnel protecting convoys, the agency added.