Severe damage in Papua New Guinea hinders quake assessment

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 7:01pm

Severe damage to phone networks and roads from a powerful earthquake in Papua New Guinea was hindering efforts to assess the extent of the destruction on Tuesday, although officials in the remote central region feared dozens of people may have been injured or killed.

The government had not confirmed any deaths after the magnitude 7.5 quake struck the Pacific nation’s central highlands region early on Monday. Aftershocks were continuing to strike the area.

Hela Provincial Administrator William Bando said phone networks were cut off, power lines down and roads blocked by landslides. He said the quake was a disaster on a scale he has not experienced before.

“There are massive, massive disruptions,” Bando said.

He said he had been hearing reports of dozens of deaths and injuries but could not confirm them.

The National Disaster Centre said it was carrying out a rapid assessment by ground and helicopter to give information to the government.

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said authorities were assessing the damage and getting ready to provide relief.

“There are communities that have suffered from this natural disaster, and we are sending our soldiers and other government agencies to support our people in their time of need,” O’Neill said in a statement.

The quake also disrupted work at oil and gas plants, mines and coffee plantations.

ExxonMobil Papua New Guinea closed an airport it built as well as a gas conditioning plant, where there was damage to the administration buildings, living quarters and mess hall. The company was also evacuating non-essential workers.

Managing Director Andrew Barry said it was trying to re-establish communications with nearby communities to understand the broader effects of the quake.

“We are deeply saddened by the damage this natural event has caused to the people in the highlands provinces,” he said in a statement.

Aid agencies said they were ready to help but were also waiting for more information. Udaya Regmi, the country head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said it had 20 volunteers on standby but getting accurate information was difficult.

The quake hit about 89km (55 miles) southwest of Porgera, the site of a large gold mine that employs more than 2,500. Several aftershocks stronger than magnitude-5 struck the region, including a magnitude 6.3 early on Tuesday.

The quake also caused panic and damaged buildings across the border in eastern Indonesia.

Papua New Guinea sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.