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Nearly 700 killed in major landslide

A landslide occurred after 9 p.m. local time on Nov. 20, 2023, just south of Pat Creek Road in Wrangell, Alaska. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities/TNS)
May 26, 2024

Nearly 700 are believed to have died after a massive landslide in the southwest Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea.

Around 300 people were initially believed to have been lost in the landslide Friday. On Sunday, more than 48 hours after the natural disaster, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Reuters that the death toll has likely reached at least 670 people.

The landslide caused destruction across the Yambali village in the Lagaip Porgera District of the Enga Province in the central northern region of Papua New Guinea, an island nation about 100 miles north of Australia at the closest point.

IOM officials are basing their death toll estimates on information provided by Enga Province officials as they continue to assess the damage. 

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Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of IOM’s mission in Papua New Guinea, said around 150 homes were buried in the landslide. Around 250 more homes in the area have been abandoned and around 1,250 have left the area, amid concerns of continued disaster.

“Land is still sliding, rocks are falling, ground soil is cracking due to constant increased pressure and ground water is running thus the area is posing an extreme risk for everyone,” Aktroprak said on Sunday.

Aktroprak said locals are using digging sticks, spades, and large agricultural forks to locate and free the bodies trapped under the mud and debris field left by the landslide.

The IOM believes the demographics of the impacted community were relatively young and that most of the fatalities would consist of children 15 years old or younger.

CARE Australia, an aid group, told Reuters thousands of people may have been living in the impacted area, which has become a refuge for individuals fleeing nearby conflicts. 

The western half of the island of New Guinea is held by the government of Indonesia and is the site of guerilla fighting between the Indonesian government and the Free Papua Movement, which seeks to cast off Indonesian rule. Papua New Guinea has also dealt with recent tribal violence within its own borders.