Thu, Mar 01, 2018 - Page 4 News List

PNG officials struggling to assess earthquake damage

VILLAGES FLATTENED:Aftershocks have hampered rescue efforts in remote areas, while many more than the confirmed 20 fatalities are expected to be dead

Reuters, SYDNEY

This image made from video provided yesterday, shows a landslide area following Monday`s earthquake in Mendi, Papua New Guinea.

Photo: AP / Australia Broadcasting Corp

Whole villages were flattened and water sources spoiled by Monday’s powerful earthquake that killed at least 20 people, residents said yesterday as rescuers struggled to reach the hardest-hit areas in Papua New Guinea’s remote, mountainous highlands.

The magnitude 7.5 quake rocked the rugged Southern Highlands Province about 560km northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, triggering landslides, damaging mining, gas and power infrastructure, and cutting communications.

Scores of aftershocks have hampered rescue efforts and rattled villagers over the past two days, including a magnitude 6.0 tremor just before 1pm yesterday registered by the US Geological Survey.

Most of the confirmed fatalities were in or around the provincial capital of Mendi, where television images showed collapsed buildings and landslides, and the town of Tari, authorities and residents said.

“It’s massive destruction,” Stanley Mamu said by telephone from Tari, 40km from the epicenter.

One person was killed in Tari and five were killed in a landslide in a nearby village, he said.

“There are buildings on the ground and landslides along the roads. My home was destroyed. The main sources of water were all flooded ... people can’t drink that water,” Mamu said.

Elsewhere rivers had silted up or become blocked, villages had been damaged and gardens and water tanks destroyed, although the biggest landslides hit sparsely populated areas, said Mission Aviation Fellowship, an air transport operator that flew a three-hour survey on Tuesday.

Morning clouds and afternoon fog yesterday hampered official efforts to assess damage by helicopter, let alone distribute aid, Papua New Guinean National Disaster Centre Director of Risk Management Kaigabu Kamnanaya said.

Miners and oil and gas companies were also assessing the damage, which included ensuring a 700km gas pipeline that connects to a coastal liquefaction plant was intact before it could be reopened.

Australia sent a C-130 military transport plane to help with aerial surveillance. The office of Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said in a statement it would likely take days before the extent of the damage is clear.

Landslides in Mendi had buried homes and blocked a river residents worried could flood the town, police sergeant Naring Bongi said.

“We are really in deep fear,” Bongi said. “It continues to be active. We didn’t sleep well and stayed awake until daybreak ... no helicopters or government officials have come to our assistance.”

Food, medical supplies and heavy equipment to clear landslides are also needed, said James Justin, a spokesman for provincial Legislator Manasseh Makiba.

“The casualties have yet to be confirmed, but many more than 20 people have lost their lives,” he said.

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