Devastating landslide in Papua New Guinea claims lives, complicated by tribal conflict

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In a devastating turn of events, a massive landslide struck Kaokalam village in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea, leading to at least five confirmed deaths, with the death toll expected to rise as hundreds are feared trapped under the rubble. The disaster occurred early Friday morning, approximately 600 kilometers northwest of Port Moresby, burying over 100 houses, an elementary school, small businesses, a guesthouse, and a petrol station under meters of debris.

Emergency response teams, hindered by ongoing tribal violence, managed to recover three additional bodies from the debris on Sunday, May 26, according to the United Nations migration agency (IOM). Serhan Aktoprak, IOM’s chief of mission in Papua New Guinea, reported that the extent of injuries and the exact number of missing persons remain unclear, with estimates suggesting that more than 670 individuals could still be buried.

Over 670 feared buried in a catastrophic landslide in Papua New Guinea, with rescue efforts hampered by tribal violence.

Over 670 feared buried in a catastrophic landslide in Papua New Guinea, with rescue efforts hampered by tribal violence.

Complex Challenges in Rescue Operations

The rescue operations have been severely complicated by tribal conflicts in the region. Aktoprak noted that tribal fighting along the only accessible route into the disaster zone had escalated, necessitating military escorts to secure the passage of aid convoys. This violence is not directly related to the landslide but poses significant risks to the safety and efficiency of the ongoing relief efforts.

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International Response and Aid

The international community has quickly mobilized to assist in the recovery efforts. United States President Joe Biden expressed his condolences and readiness to assist, involving partners like Australia and New Zealand in the recovery efforts. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also voiced his sorrow, emphasizing the deep connection between the people of Australia and Papua New Guinea during such tragic times.

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Urgent Need for Heavy Machinery and Continued Aid

Reports indicate that heavy machinery necessary for moving the massive boulders and debris was expected to arrive at the site by Sunday. The depth of the debris, reaching up to eight meters in some areas, underscores the scale of the disaster and the challenging recovery that lies ahead.

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This tragic event underscores the critical need for robust disaster preparedness and response strategies, particularly in regions prone to natural disasters and compounded by socio-political challenges like tribal violence. Effective coordination among local authorities, international aid organizations, and the community is essential to manage the immediate aftermath and long-term recovery efforts.

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