Fears of second Papua New Guinea landslide after more than 2,000 people buried

The International Organisation for Migration said on Sunday that any hope of finding survivors is dwindling

Authorities have warned a second landslide could hit a village in Papua New Guinea, where over 2,000 people were buried by debris last week.

Recent rain has made the mass of debris lying six to eight metres deep over Yambali more unstable.

Serhan Aktoprak, chief of the International Organisation for Migration’s mission in Papua New Guinea, said: “We are hearing suggestions that another landslide can happen and maybe 8,000 people need to be evacuated. This is a major concern.

“If this debris mass is not stopped, if it continues moving, it can gain speed and further wipe out other communities and villages further down the mountain."

Villagers in Yambali search through the rubble for survivors. Credit: AP

Government estimates for how many people have died in the disaster are around three times what the United Nations (UN) have estimated, with the UN placing the death toll at 670.

Fears of a disease outbreak are also growing, with Mr Aktoprak warning of the impact of bodies coming into contact with water sources.

“My biggest fear at the moment is corpses are decaying, water is flowing, and this is going to poise serious health risks in relation to contagious diseases,” he said.

Relocating survivors to safer ground has been a priority for days and evacuation centres have been established on either side of the debris heap left by the landslide, which the UN says sprawls across an area equivalent to three or four football fields.

The United Nations' migrant agency has officials at the scene in Enga province, helping to shelter 1,600 displaced people.

The landslide in Yambali village Credit: UNDP Papua New Guinea

Australian officials have confirmed they are sending aircraft and other equipment to Papua New Guinea.

Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said: "The exact nature of the support that we do provide will play out over the coming days.

“We’ve obviously got airlift capacity to get people there. There may be other equipment that we can bring to bear in terms of the search and rescue and all of that we are talking through with Papua New Guinea right now,” Mr Marles added.

South Pacific island nation’s National Disaster Centre said the landslide 'buried more than 2000 people alive'. Credit: AP

Papua New Guinea is Australia's nearest neighbour and the countries are developing closer defence ties as part of an Australian effort to counter China's influence in the region.

Australia is also the most generous provider of foreign aid to its former colony, which became independent in 1975.

An excavator donated by a local builder became the first piece of heavy earth-moving machinery brought in to help villagers who have been digging with shovels and farming tools to find bodies.

The remains of six people have been recovered after the mountainside collapsed on Friday.

Mr Aktoprak said water was seeping between the debris and the earth below, increasing the risk of a further landslide.

“What really worries me personally very much is the weather, weather, weather,” Aktoprak said. “Because the land is still sliding. Rocks are falling,” he added.

Villagers use heavy machinery to search through a landslide in Yambali. Credit: AP

Papua New Guinea's defence minister, Billy Joseph, and the government’s National Disaster Centre director, Laso Mana, flew in an Australian military helicopter from the capital of Port Moresby to Yambali - 370 miles) to the northwest - to gain a firsthand perspective of what is needed.

Mr Mana’s office posted a photo of him at Yambali handing a local official a check for 500,000 kina (£102,000) to buy emergency supplies for the 4,000 displaced survivors.

The purpose of the visit was to decide whether Papua New Guinea's government needed to officially request more international support.

Earth-moving equipment used by Papua New Guinea's military was being transported to the disaster scene - 250 miles from the east coast city of Lae.

Traumatised villagers are divided over whether heavy machinery should be allowed to dig up and potentially further damage the bodies of their buried relatives, officials said.

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