Hundreds feared dead in massive Papua New Guinea landslide

A massive landslide is feared to have killed hundreds of people after it struck remote villages in Papua New Guinea, local officials and aid agencies said.

The landslide buried more than 100 homes after it struck around 03:00 local time Friday (17:00 GMT Thursday) in the highlands of Enga, north of the island nation in the south-west Pacific.

It was not immediately clear how many people were trapped in the rubble.

Enga governor Peter Ipatas told AFP news agency it was an "unprecedented natural disaster".

Andrew Ruing, a community leader, told Reuters news agency that people had been asleep when the landslide struck. "More than 300 lives have been covered by the debris and rocks," he said.

"Food, gardens, the people, the properties worth more than millions have been lost, covered by all these things," he added.

Business leader Elizabeth Iarume told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that "the entire village had gone down."

Villager Ninga Role also said he believed hundreds had died. The scale of the landslide was also making it hard to rescue any survivors, he said.

"The area covered by the landslide is large and there are rocks and trees everywhere," Role told Reuters by phone. "It's very difficult to get them out."

Humanitarian organisation Care Australia said in a statement: "While the area is not densely populated, our concern is that the death toll could be disproportionately high."

Clearing road will take a long time and "this will hinder assessment and relief efforts", it said.

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape said disaster officials had been sent to the site to "start relief work, recovery of bodies, and reconstruction of infrastructure".

Videos show villagers scrambling over rocks to reach those buried.

People can be heard crying and yelling on a video posted by Facebook user Kindupan Kambii from Kaokalam village in Enga.

Papua New Guinea's Red Cross Society said an emergency response team made up of officials from the provincial governor's office, police, defence forces, and local NGOs has deployed to the site.

Enga is more than 600km (372 miles) by road from the country's capital, Port Moresby.

People gather at the site of a landslide in Maip Mulitaka in Papua New Guinea's Enga Province
Dozens of people are scrambling amid fallen boulders to assess the situation [Getty Images]