Tue, Mar 06, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Strong aftershocks rattle PNG as quake toll rises

‘WE HAVEN’T SLEPT’:The death toll yesterday reached 55, with most of the fatalities occurring in collapsed and buried homes, while 150,000 remain in need of supplies

Reuters, SYDNEY

An undated handout photograph received yesterday from Oil Search Ltd shows Oil Search staff distributing supplies from the firm and the Australian government to earthquake victims in Papua New Guinea.

Photo: AFP

Strong aftershocks yesterday rocked Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) remote and rugged highlands, as the death toll climbed to 55 from a magnitude 7.5 earthquake a week ago, and is expected to rise further.

Three aftershocks of magnitude greater than 5 shook the mountainous Southern Highlands, about 600km northwest of Port Moresby early yesterday, the US Geological Survey said, including a shallow magnitude 6 quake.

“We haven’t slept. It’s been shaking all through the night,” Hela Province Administrator William Bando said by telephone from Tari, about 40km from the site of the shocks.

“What we experienced this morning could have caused more damage, but we don’t know ... it almost threw me out of bed,” he added.

The region had already been badly damaged on Feb. 26, when the largest quake to hit the seismically active highlands in nearly a century flattened buildings, triggered landslides and closed oil and gas operations.

The toll yesterday stood at 55 killed, PNG Ministry of Petroleum and Energy research officer James Justin said as news of more deaths arrived in the capital by shortwave radio.

Most of the confirmed fatalities were in and around the provincial capital of Mendi and the township of Tari, he said, where landslides buried homes and buildings collapsed on families.

“People are in great fear of their lives as the quakes are continuing ever since it started,” he said. “They actually want to know when it will stop.”

While the region has no major urban centers, about 670,000 people live within 100km of the epicenter, according to the Red Cross.

The quake has been felt on global natural gas markets, with ExxonMobil Corp declaring force majeure on exports from PNG, an industry source said, pushing Asian spot liquefied natural gas prices 5 percent higher.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure, but said production would be knocked out for about eight weeks.

Aid agencies have said that nearly 150,000 people remain in urgent need of emergency supplies.

Australia, New Zealand and the Red Cross have all pledged aid, although reaching the remote area has proven challenging as forbidding terrain, bad weather and damaged roads and runways have delayed aid efforts.

“The only way for people to go out is by chopper, and it’s slow for information to come through,” said Martin Mose, director of PNG’s National Disaster Center, which has yet to complete a full assessment of damage.

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