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News / Nation & World

Papua New Guinea formally seeks help after Friday’s landslide buries more than 2,000 people

By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
Published: May 27, 2024, 3:41pm

MELBOURNE, Australia — A Papua New Guinea government official has told the United Nations that more than 2,000 people are believed to have been buried alive by last Friday’s landslide and has formally asked for international help.

The government figure is roughly triple the U.N. estimate of 670 killed by the landslide in the South Pacific island nation’s mountainous interior. The remains of only five people had been recovered by Monday, local authorities reported. It was not immediately clear why the tally of six reported on Sunday had been revised.

In a letter to the United Nations resident coordinator dated Sunday and seen by The Associated Press, the acting director of the country’s National Disaster Center, Luseta Laso Mana, said the landslide “buried more than 2,000 people alive” and caused “major destruction” in Yambali village in Enga province.

Estimates of the casualties have varied widely since the disaster occurred, and it was not immediately clear how officials arrived at the number of people affected.

The International Organization for Migration, which is working closely with the government and taking a leading role in the international response, has not changed its estimated death toll of 670 released on Sunday, pending new evidence.

“We are not able to dispute what the government suggests but we are not able to comment on it,” said Serhan Aktoprak, chief of the U.N. migrant agency’s mission in Papua New Guinea.

“As time goes in such a massive undertaking, the number will remain fluid,” Aktoprak added.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres sent “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims and the people and government of Papua New Guinea and said the U.N. and its partners are supporting the government’s response efforts, and “the United Nations stands ready to offer additional assistance at this challenging time,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday.

The death toll of 670 was based on calculations by Yambali village and Enga provincial officials that over 150 homes had been buried by the landslide. The previous estimate was 60 homes.

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