PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) — Rescuers were pulling bodies from the debris of a landslide that struck mountainous central Papua New Guinea, a disaster official said Wednesday, with reports saying as many as 60 people were dead or missing.
The full extent of the damage to villages hit by Tuesday's landslide was not immediately known, said Martin Mose, the director of the South Pacific island nation's National Disaster Center.
"I just received reports that several bodies have been recovered," Mose told The Associated Press. He said he was waiting for officials at the scene — near the town of Mendi — to provide him with the exact number.
Local media reported that 40 bodies had been recovered and 20 people were still missing.
Local lawmaker Francis Potape told Radio Australia's indigenous language service that the landslide completely covered two villages while people slept.
"There are people buried underneath and a number of them are, from what I have heard, children," The National newspaper quoted Potape as saying.
Reports said the destruction extended more than one mile (two kilometers), leaving roads to villages cut off.
Three National Disaster Center officials were being flown by helicopter to Mendi on Wednesday to join police at the disaster site.
The Post Courier newspaper reported that Prime Minister Peter O'Neill would fly to the state later Wednesday.
(This version CORRECTS spelling of Mose's last name.)