Nearly 700 villagers feared dead after massive landslide buries communities in Papua New Guinea

According to a 2021 government estimate, the country had a population of nearly 12 million. Papua New Guinea shares a border with Indonesia and is located north of Australia.

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea – Rescue crews say they are working to free hundreds of people in communities around the village of Kaokalam after a massive landslide buried everything in its path during the early morning hours of Friday.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports at least 670 are feared dead and that number is expected to rise.

The landside occurred more than 200 miles northwest of the capital of Port Moresby, in a rural, mountainous region.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that six villages were impacted, with Kaokalam being the worst affected.

Videos and photos showed residents digging through dirt and rubble with their hands in the search for survivors.

"I am yet to be fully briefed on the situation, however, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the landslide disaster in the early hours of this morning," Prime Minister James Marape said in a statement after learning about the disaster.


Crews from several government agencies were sent to the Enga Province, but some roadways were initially reported to be impassible.

Over 500,000 residents live in the province, according to government estimates, and regularly deal with the repercussions of poor telecommunication and infrastructure.

The province is also home to one of Oceania’s most productive gold and silver mines, which thousands of people rely on for employment.

"The United Nations is monitoring the situation closely, in collaboration with national and provincial government authorities, including other partners to determine the extent of damage, casualties and possible assistance that may be necessary for those affected," the U.N. stated.


It’s unknown what triggered the landslide - the country is subject to natural disasters that range from monsoon flooding to earthquakes.

In March, a 6.9-magnitude quake led to the destruction of over 1,000 homes and killed at least five people. And in April, flooding and landslides caused devastation throughout villages on the island of New Guinea, killing around two dozen residents.

During the past month, the United States Geological Survey reported 96 quakes have occurred in and around Papua New Guinea.

The country sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire at the convergence of several tectonic plates.

Additionally, the country’s vulnerabilities are exacerbated by its mountainous terrain, which can fail during episodes of significant shaking or torrential rainfall.

Nearby countries such as Australia have pledged to help the island nation of nearly 12 million people.

"We send our heartfelt sympathies to the people of PNG following the landslide at Kaokalam village. The loss of life and destruction is devastating. As friends and partners, Australia stands ready to assist in relief and recovery efforts," Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.

Heavy rainfall is expected to occur over the region affected by the landslide, which could impact search and rescue operations and lead to additional slides.