Papua New Guinea cries out for help after landslide buries an estimated 2,000 people

Papua New Guinea is slowly receiving international aid after a massive landslide buried an estimated 2,000 people in a remote village Friday.

A Papua New Guinea government official told the United Nations that more than 2,000 people were believed to have been buried alive and was formally asking for international help to excavate the land, The Associated Press reported.

The U.N. currently estimates the death toll at 670 and said it hasn’t changed that, despite the local government’s estimate. But, it noted, the number will “remain fluid.”

Only the remains of six people have been found so far.

The International Organization for Migration, part of the U.N., is taking a leading response for international aid so far.

Since the landslide happened in a remote mountainous region, it’s difficult to bring equipment and machinery. There also is tribal warfare nearby, which has forced aid workers to travel in convoys and be escorted at night by soldiers, Reuters reported.

The first excavator reached the site late Sunday, a U.N. official told Reuters.

Australia has announced an initial $2.5 million in local currency — or 1.66 million in American dollars — and said it would send technical experts to help.

China also said it would provide assistance within its disaster relief capabilities and reconstruction, Reuters reported.

“We believe that the people of Papua New Guinea will be able to overcome difficulties and rebuild their homeland at an early date,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, according to Reuters.

The AP also noted that it’s difficult to determine the scale of the disaster since the village is in a remote location with a lack of telecommunications. The government did not explain what the 2,000-person estimate was based on, and it’s difficult to track the population since the country lacks accurate and updated census data.

Luseta Laso Mana, the acting director of the South Pacific island nation’s National Disaster Center, visited the landslide with Papua New Guinea’s defense minister, Billy Joseph, and delivered emergency supplies to the 4,000 survivors.

In some places, like the main highway, debris was piled up 20 to 26 feet high.

As excavation continues and more tools arrive, villagers are divided over whether they want heavy machinery digging up the bodies of their relatives, the AP reported.

President Biden issued condolences Friday for those who lost their loved ones in the landslide.

“Our prayers are with all the families impacted by this tragedy and all the first responders who are putting themselves in harm’s way to help their fellow citizens,” he wrote in a statement, pledging to aid the country in its recovery efforts.

“We stand ready to assist,” he added. “And at this dark hour, we will continue to coordinate with Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand, and our Quad partners to ensure we’re meeting our commitment to partner in delivering humanitarian assistance and disaster relief across the Indo-Pacific.”

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