Berliner Tageblatt - Rescue teams arrive at site of massive landslide in Papua New Guinea

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Rescue teams arrive at site of massive landslide in Papua New Guinea
Rescue teams arrive at site of massive landslide in Papua New Guinea / Photo: © AFP

Rescue teams arrive at site of massive landslide in Papua New Guinea

Rescue teams began arriving at the site of a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea's remote highlands Saturday, helping villagers search for the scores of people feared dead under the towering mounds of rubble and mud.

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The disaster hit an isolated part of Enga province at around 3:00 am on Friday, according to government officials, when many villagers were at home asleep.

At least four bodies have been recovered, a United Nations official based in Papua New Guinea told AFP on Saturday morning, but there are fears hundreds more may be entombed.

"While the area is not densely populated, our concern is that the death toll could be disproportionately high," humanitarian agency CARE said Saturday as the first reinforcements began trickling into the site.

A rapid response team of medics, military, and police had reached the landslide in the morning, CARE said, a journey complicated by the rugged terrain and damage to major roads.

The Red Cross on Friday estimated that as many as 500 people could be injured or dead.

Steven Kandai, a community leader at the scene, told AFP that many residents had no time to flee.

"All of a sudden there was a big landslip. The mountain just collapsed all of a sudden while people were still sleeping," he said, adding their homes were "completely buried".

Images showed a scene of total devastation, with a vast bite of earth cleaved from densely vegetated Mount Mungalo.

The landslide left car-size boulders, felled trees and dirt that stretched down toward the valley floor.

The twisted remains of corrugated tin shelters and an overturned minibus could be seen at the foot of rubble.

Dozens of local men and women scrambled over the piles of rock and soil, digging, crying out, listening for survivors or scanning the scene in disbelief.

Sitting just south of the equator, the area is hit by frequent heavy rains.

In March, at least 23 people were killed by a landslide in a nearby province.

S.Keller--BTB