Papua New Guinea landslide buries more than 2,000 people, government says

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea — A massive landslide in Papua New Guinea three days ago buried more than 2,000 people, the government said Monday, as treacherous terrain and difficulties transporting aid lowered hopes of finding survivors.

The National Disaster Centre provided the new figure in a letter to the U.N. released Monday but dated Sunday. A separate U.N. agency estimated the possible death toll at more than 670 people.

The discrepancy reflects the remote location and the difficulty of obtaining an accurate population estimate. Papua New Guinea’s last credible census was in 2000, and many people live in isolated mountainous villages on the Pacific island nation.

The landslide swept through six villages in the Maip-Mulitaka district in the north of the country at around 3 a.m. on Friday while most of the community slept. More than 150 houses were buried beneath debris almost two stories high. Rescuers told local media they heard screams from beneath the earth.

“I have 18 of my family members buried under the debris and soil that I am standing on, and many more family members in the village I cannot count,” resident Evit Kambu told Reuters. “But I cannot retrieve the bodies, so I am standing here helplessly.”

More than 72 hours after the landslide, residents are still using spades, sticks, and their bare hands to try to shift the debris and reach any survivors. So far, only seven bodies have been found.

Villagers held a funeral on Monday for one of the victims. Tens of mourners walked in a procession behind the coffin, wailing and weeping, according to video footage shot by a U.N. official.