A serious disaster has struck Papua New Guinea. At least 150 houses have been buried in a landslide and hundreds are feared dead. Rescue efforts are proving extremely difficult.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) fears at least 670 deaths after a landslide in a remote highland area in Papua New Guinea. IOM Chief of Mission for Papua New Guinea, Serhan Aktoprak, said this in a video conversation with Australian broadcaster ABC on Sunday.

The extent of the accident is much greater than initially thought. “Estimates now suggest that 150 or more houses could be six to eight meters deep beneath the rubble. And they fear that around 670 people or more may have lost their lives,” Aktoprak continued. The landslide occurred around 3 a.m. on Friday in the central Enga province of the Pacific island nation. 

According to Aktoprak, the area surrounding the disaster area was still dangerous and unstable on Sunday. New pieces of rock fell continuously and the masses of earth continued to move, pushing against the surrounding houses. Arriving aid workers from the organization first had to get themselves to safety – as did around 1,250 surviving residents in the area. 

The tropical island of Papua New Guinea is located north of Australia. Because of its proximity to the equator, heavy rains are not uncommon. The island nation with ten million inhabitants is also located on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the most seismically active areas on earth. Earthquakes occur again and again – most recently a few days ago, when a magnitude 4.5 quake shook the province of Enga. It was unclear whether the tremors were related to the landslide that had now occurred.