Death toll from Papua New Guinea quake crosses 100: official

Published: 05:24 GMT, Mar 12, 2018 |

The death toll from a 7.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the rugged highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) last month is estimated to have reached more than 100, the national emergency controller said on Sunday.

The quake hit the provinces of Southern Highlands and Hela, a heavily forested region about 560 kilometers northwest of the capital Port Moresby, at around 03:45 on Feb 26, causing widespread destruction to infrastructure and left thousands homeless, according to reports.

While the country was still reeling from the aftermath of the powerful quake, a 6.7-magnitude aftershock jolted the mountainous region on March 6, causing more fatalities and leaving an estimated 150,000 people in need of emergency relief.

In an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) on Sunday in Port Moresby, National Earthquake Emergency Controller Bill Hamblin recounted the devastation he had witnessed in the epicenter of the February quake.

He said the scale of destruction and high death toll were almost inevitable since the quake struck the villages in the mountainous region at midnight. He added that some villages were completely destroyed in the quake.

“I flew over one, where the pilot indicated to me there was a tin shade down there, and he said that’s all that’s left of the village, and I found 31 bodies in that village, and half a dozen people still alive,” recalled Hamblin.

The quake and aftershocks have reportedly damaged many roads and cut-off communication in 90 percent of the affected villages, making it difficult for rescuers to reach the areas and blocking access to relief supplies.

“We got to basically have transport everything in either by road, and to mention, I think there were 63 slips that we’ve cleared already, and with each aftershock there is more slips. So you’ve got to go and re-clear them,” added Hamblin.

The official said the exact death toll was not immediately known because of the number of people buried under rubble, but it most likely stands between 100 and 200, adding to which he said 17,000 people have been left homeless.

“Because this happened in such remote areas, we may never know the totals. And people who are buried under the landslide that can’t be found – so they are missing, presumed dead. It’s a very difficult thing to put a figure on, but we are talking somewhere between 100 and 200 people,” he said.

Papua New Guinea is located along the so-called “Ring of Fire”, which stretches the Pacific Ocean – prone to earthquakes and volcanic activities. The nation has recorded more than 50 quakes above magnitude six over the past five years.

The country’s capital Port Moresby is scheduled to host the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in November, which Hamblin said will not be affected by the quake.

“It should have no effect on the incoming APEC conference because most of the conference being held in Moresby, which is not affected by that situation at all,” said Hamblin.

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