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Landslide kills dozens in Papua New Guinea

By Hannah Belcher, for CNN
updated 1:14 AM EST, Wed January 25, 2012
  • The landslide takes places near one of the country's largest natural gas fields
  • The National Disaster Office says the authorities have recovered 40 bodies with 20 people still missing
  • The disaster office says earthworks for a liquified gas project may have contributed to the landslide

(CNN) -- A big landslide has ripped through a village in a remote area of Papua New Guinea, killing at least 40 people and leaving 20 others missing, authorities said Wednesday.

The country's National Disaster Office said that 40 bodies had been recovered from the debris and search and rescue officers were at the site on Wednesday to assist with the recovery of others.

The landslide happened Tuesday in the Komo area in in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, near one of the country's major liquified natural gas fields.

Bill Yomba, an official at the National Disaster Office said that the agency thought that excavations carried out by Esso Highlands, a division of the oil company ExxonMobil, for a natural gas project could have set off the landslide.

"This is a very huge landslide that covered a 1 kilometer area," said Yomba. "We are still trying to find out the cause but at this stage we believe the gas project run by Esso Highlands Limited was a contributor because they had been digging for limestone in the area."

The office of Esso Highlands in Papua New Guinea did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment Wednesday.

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