Rescuers in Papua New Guinea were struggling to reach villagers feared buried under a massive landslide that may have been triggered by excavations for liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The country's National Disaster Office (NDO) said that 40 bodies had already been recovered, while 20 more were missing, CNN reported.
The slip occurred near Tari in the interior highlands, about 380 miles from the PNG capital Port Moresby, according to TV New Zealand, close to one of the country's major liquefied natural gas fields.
CNN cited Bill Yomba, an official at the NDO as saying that excavations carried out by Esso Highlands, a division of the oil company ExxonMobil, for a $15.6 billion natural gas project could have set off the landslide.
The accident prompted US oil giant Exxon Mobil to stop work at the project, TVNZ reported.
Yomba reportedly said:
"This is a very huge landslide that covered a 1 kilometer area. 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."
Agence France-Presse was reporting that the slip wiped out an entire village.
However, local parliamentarian Francis Potape told Australia's ABC radio that the slide covered two villages in mud, leaving some residents buried.
PNG, Australia's nearest neighbor to the north, shares the island of New Guinea with Indonesia.
The majority of Papua New Guineans live a subsistence existence despite the country's abundant mineral wealth.
According to TVNZ, the ExxonMobil LNG project, due to come on stream in 2014, is expected to produce 6.6 million tons per annum and could lift the country's GDP by 20 percent.