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The Financial Express

PNG quake toll rises as strong aftershocks rock highlands

| Updated: March 06, 2018 12:07:20


Locals surround a house that was covered by a landslide in the town of Mendi after an earthquake struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands in this image taken on February 27, 2018 obtained from social media. (Reuters) Locals surround a house that was covered by a landslide in the town of Mendi after an earthquake struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands in this image taken on February 27, 2018 obtained from social media. (Reuters)

Strong aftershocks hit Papua New Guinea’s remote and rugged highlands on Monday, as the death toll climbed to 55 from a 7.5-magnitude earthquake a week ago, and is expected to rise further.

Three aftershocks of magnitude greater than 5 rocked the mountainous Southern Highlands, about 600 km (370 miles) northwest of the capital Port Moresby early on Monday, the US Geological Survey said, including a shallow magnitude 6 quake.

“We haven’t slept. It’s been shaking all through the night,” William Bando, provincial administrator of Hela Province, said by telephone from Tari, about 40 km (25 miles) from the site of the shocks.

The region had already been badly damaged on February 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 on Monday stood at 55 killed, said James Justin, a research officer at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Port Moresby, 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, where landslides buried homes and buildings collapsed on families, reports Reuters quoting Justin.

“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 centres, around 670,000 people live within 100 km (62 miles) of the epicentre, according to the Red Cross.

The quake has been felt on global natural gas markets, with ExxonMobil Corp declaring force majeure on exports from Papua New Guinea, according to an industry source, pushing Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices 5 per cent higher.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure, but said production would be knocked out for about 8 weeks.

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

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

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