Over 2,000 buried alive in Papua New Guinea landslide, government says

More than 2,000 people were buried alive by a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea last week, the country’s national disaster centre said on Monday, May 27.

Treacherous terrain and the difficulty of getting aid to the site raises the risk few survivors will be found. 

The numbers of those buried around Yambali village in Enga province in the country’s north are based on estimates from local authorities, which have been rising steadily since the landslide on Friday, May 24. 

A United Nations agency put the estimated death toll at more than 670 people on Sunday, May 26.

The National Disaster Centre raised the toll again to 2,000 in a letter to the UN on Sunday that was released publicly on Monday. 

The landslide also caused major destruction to buildings and food gardens, it said.

“The situation remains unstable as the landslip continues to shift slowly, posing ongoing danger to both the rescue teams and survivors alike,” according to the letter.

About 4,000 people were living near the affected area, said Justine McMahon, the country director for CARE International Papua New Guinea, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday. 

However, it is difficult to get an accurate estimate of the local population as Papua New Guinea’s last credible census was in 2000 and many people live in remote mountainous villages.

Emergency crews, led by Papua New Guinea’s defence personnel, were on the ground, but the first excavator only reached the site late on Sunday, according to a UN official.

Social media footage posted by villagers and local media teams showed people scaling rocks, digging with shovels, sticks and their bare hands to find survivors. Women could be heard weeping in the background.

Six bodies have been retrieved so far. The UN said the number of possible deaths could change as rescue efforts were expected to continue for days.

Meanwhile, media in Papua New Guinea on Monday reported that residents had rescued a couple trapped under rubble after hearing their cries for help. 

Johnson and Jacklyn Yandam told local NBC News that they were very grateful and described their rescue as a miracle.

“We thank God for saving our lives at that moment. We were certain that we were going to die but the big rocks didn’t crush us,” Jacklyn said. “It’s really hard to explain as we got trapped for nearly eight hours, then got rescued. We believe we were saved for a purpose.”