Rescue efforts are underway as more than 2,000 people are thought to be buried alive in a landside in Papua New Guinea

 May 29, 2024

More than 2,000 people are thought to be buried alive after a landslide in Papua New Guinea Friday, the Associated Press reported. The threat of another landslide and the remoteness of the village have hindered rescue efforts.

Reports from the South Pacific island nation paint a bleak picture in the aftermath of a landslide in the remote village of Yambali. The death toll is difficult to pin down, with some estimates in the hundreds and others in the thousands.

Luseta Laso Mana, acting director of the National Disaster Center in Papua New Guinea said the disaster "buried more than 2,000 people alive" and resulted in "major destruction" in the small village of Yambali. Crews are still working to free people from the rubble and have pulled out five survivors as of Monday.

Relief Effort and Recover Challenges

There are many complications to the search and rescue efforts in the ongoing crisis. According to Reuters, the remote village in the Enga region is already difficult to access over rough terrain.

Adding to the physical challenges is the situation for aid workers who have to contend with political unrest to deliver food, clean water, and other necessities. The region is prone to tribal wars and violence even in the best of times.

Estimating the scope of the disaster hinders rescue efforts. There is a lack of reliable census data, and cross-checking against the voter rolls won't help since they don't include children meaning that it's unknown how many people may be missing.

"Most people remain trapped under that rubble, and it's just not possible at this stage to make a very scientific, verified estimate. But it's going to be a very high number of casualties," Nicholas Booth, United Nations Development Program resident representative, said.

"We have to be prepared for that," he added. Unfortunately, this crisis is far from over.

Ongoing Danger

Amid all of the current challenges in delivering aid is the possibility of additional landslides. "It means that now, the area that's been affected by the landslide is greater than it was at the beginning," Booth said.

"We don't know how it will develop, but that's the nature of the geology in PNG," he added. International Organization for Migration Officer Itayi Viriri pointed out that the presence of aid workers threatens to create "another disaster" due to their added movements.

"We still have water underneath the rubble, so that is making the whole area quite uneven, so it ensures all response efforts have to be done in a very careful manner," Viriri said. Meanwhile, the unrest that has plagued the village has not ceased in the time of natural disaster.

On Saturday, 30 houses were burned, and eight people were killed as tribal wars continued. It presents a danger to the residents as well as to aid workers, who now must be escorted by the military.

More lives could be lost as this disaster continues to unfold. Although the United Nations has dispatched workers and supplies to the area, it looks as though this could be just the beginning for this nation and its people.

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