A major landslide affected “more than six villages” located in a mountainous region of Papua New Guinea, local authorities said on Friday (May 24). The disaster particularly struck the village of Kaokalam.

Enga provincial governor Peter Ipatas said the landslide – believed to have occurred around 3 a.m. local time on Thursday – caused “human losses and material damage”, but did not did not immediately provide an assessment. He still describes this disaster as an “unprecedented natural disaster” having caused “considerable damage”.

Local residents estimate more than 100 people were killed, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. A rescue team – made up of doctors, soldiers, police officers, members of UN agencies – was dispatched to the scene to assess the damage and treat the injured. According to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer on site, a mixture of rocks and earth broke away from a hill with dense vegetation, and debris from sheet metal shelters littered the ground.

According to Nickson Pakea, president of the Porgera Chamber of Commerce and Industry, up to three hundred people were present in the village of Kaokalam. A figure which could not be confirmed by Agence France-Presse. In this village, “it seems that more than a hundred houses were buried,” Vincent Pyati, president of a local association, told AFP. “It is not yet known how many people were in these houses. »

An isolated area difficult to reach for emergency services

Dozens of people immediately set to work to find possible survivors buried under piles of stones and earth. Humanitarian organizations, including the Papua New Guinea Red Cross, said they had been alerted to the disaster.

The acting secretary general of the national branch of the Red Cross, Janet Philemon, told AFP that the landslide had taken place in an isolated area, and that it would perhaps take two days for the services to emergency and help to reach the area.

The Red Cross estimates that between one hundred and five hundred people may have been injured or killed in the landslide, but Philemon said the organization was trying “to get a more accurate picture of the situation.” The organization said it was ready to provide first aid to those affected and provide them with materials such as blankets.

No “earthquake indication”

“There is no indication of an earthquake or anything that could have triggered” the phenomenon, explained Ms. Philemon, adding that the affected area is a place of gold mining. “People may have been mining for gold on this mountain,” she said, also suggesting that the landslide may have been caused by heavy rains.

Located south of the equator, the region frequently experiences heavy rains. This year it was affected by significant rainfall and flooding episodes. At least twenty-three people died during a landslide in March in a province bordering Enga.