Fifteen people, including three children, are feared dead after being buried alive in a landslide in a remote part of Papua New Guinea’s Central Province.
The area in the Goilala District, known as Saki, is home to an informal alluvial mining camp, where people dig and pan for gold to make a living.
A group were sleeping at the base of the mountainside when the landslide happened in the early hours of Monday morning, local time.
Details of the incident only emerged on Tuesday, as the area is only accessibly by helicopter or a two-hour walk and has no mobile phone reception.
Disaster officials have been flown to the site.
A government officer who accompanied them to the site told the ABC that 15 people, including three children, are believed to have been buried but only two bodies have been recovered so far.
Before flying to the site on Monday afternoon, the MP for Goilala, William Samb, said it wasn’t expected that anyone survived.
“Unfortunately there are no survivors, from what we hear,” he said.
“They were all asleep in the early morning, then sadly they were all buried alive.”
The rain and remoteness have hampered recovery efforts, with locals having to use shovels and pitchforks to try to dig through the fallen earth.
Mr Samb, who has remained at the site, has organised additional tools, including chainsaws and axes, and food to be flown in.
“Recovery has been slow due to the enormity of the disaster, and locals are helping to dig through the earth with whatever tools are available to them,” a statement from his office said.
“[The government] will work towards recovering the rest of the bodies and finding a way forward to repatriate bodies back to their home villages across Goilala,” it said.
Heavy rain has been suspected to be the cause of the landslide.
It’s not yet clear if the mining activities and land clearing may have contributed by making the ground less stable.
While details are still to be confirmed, Mr Samb said the incident nevertheless highlighted the dangers alluvial miners in the country face, describing it as “a risky business”.
Governor of the Central Province Robert Agarobe is expected to fly to the site on Thursday.
Mr Agarobe said there are concerns the landslide could create a dam.
“What our fear is, if the dam builds up and it breaks it will cause more damage downstream,” he said.
He said an explosives expert from the army may need to be brought in to clear the earth if that is the case.