Massive PNG landslide wipes out sleeping village

Destruction ... villagers search the site of the disaster, which is reported to have killed at least 40 people. Photo: AP

Destruction … villagers search the site of the disaster, which is reported to have killed at least 40 people. Photo: AP

As many as 60 people are feared dead after a massive landslide wiped out an entire village in a scene of ”utter devastation” in Papua New Guinea, according to reports and aid workers.

The disaster struck near a huge Exxon Mobil liquefied natural gas project in the country’s rugged southern highlands on Tuesday as people slept, leaving a trail of destruction. An aerial shot showed mud and other debris extending for at least one kilometre across a forested area.

Papua New Guinea’s media said 40 bodies had been recovered and another 20 people were still missing. The director of the country’s National Disaster Centre, Martin Mose, said it appeared lives had been lost but he could not verify how many.

”It was a big landslide and it covered a big area where there used to be small hamlets, so we are expecting a number of deaths,” he said.

The area’s MP, Francis Potape, said the landslide completely covered two villages while people slept. ”There are people buried underneath and a number of them are, from what I have heard, children,” he reportedly told the The National. The Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, was reportedly rushing to the scene, near Tari.

Nanduka Yandi, an aid worker for the US non-government organisation Population Services International, was at the scene of the landslide soon after it happened. He said many people were killed and few had escaped.

”It covered 42 houses and only three or four people managed to escape. Everyone else died,” he said by telephone. ”It is quite remote and yesterday there was hardly anyone here to dig out the bodies or help people. People lost their entire families. They are in shock.”

He recounted how one guest house owner was not home when the landslide struck and returned to find his wife, children, mother and father all missing.

Mr Yandi said it had been raining in the area at the time, although residents quoted by the media said the landslide was caused by blasting at a nearby quarry.

A spokeswoman for ExxonMobil said all its personnel were accounted for and it was in close contact with the Natural Disaster Centre. ”We have closed down work in the surrounding area,” she said.

ExxonMobil’s $16 billion liquefied natural gas project is due to begin production in 2014.

Agence France-Presse; Australian Associated Press

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