More than 30 believed dead after PNG’s 7.6 quake

A landslide cutting of the tambul mendi road following a 7.5 earthquake. Photo: Andrew Solomon

Provincial authorities say more than 30 people are believed to have been killed and whole villages buried by landslides in Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck yesterday.

The Post Courier newspaper reported Hela Provincial Administrator William Bando saying at least 13 people were killed in Southern Highlands capital Mendi and 18 others are believed to have been killed in Kutubu and BASF.

Authorities also said more than 300 people were injured and many and properties were destroyed during the quake, and that the had been in contact with the region by satellite phone as other lines were down.

A police spokesman said there were also reports of whole villages being buried by landslides.

The acting disaster co-ordinator for Heal province, Barclay Tens, said 11 people died in the provincial capital Mend which is about 100 kilometres away from the epicentre of the quake.

Mr Tens told RNA Pacific from Mend that rescuers were trying to reach four people buried in a landslide.

He says power and telecommunications were still out in most of the affected areas and the main roads into the region were cut off by landslips.

“Our communication is not up to shit. We cannot communicate. All the power is cut off and I had to come to a mountain where I get a network to make a call. You are lucky to intercept.”

Papua New Guinea police say more than 400,000 people in four different provinces may be impacted by yesterday’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

There are unconfirmed reports at least thirty people are dead after the massive jolt early yesterday morning.

Police spokesman Dominic Kakis also said at least 10 people died in landslips.

Superintendent Kakis said the quake and its after shocks have caused widespread movement of land in the provinces of Southern Highlands, Heal, Enga and Western Province.

He said reports are filtering through of extensive damage.

“To roads, landslips, entire mountains coming down, from reports some villages have been covered. The telephone lines the towers have been damaged, so yeah.”

Mr Kakas said there had been no communication at all from the town of Tari which has a population of over 8000 people and is about 30 kilometres from the quake’s epicentre.

He said the Police Commander for the Southern Highlands Province had been in the capital Port Moresby and was returning home today by helicopter to further assess the situation.

RNZ Pacific’s correspondent in PNG said people he managed to speak to people near the quake’s epicentre who were still in shock and remained fearful as powerful tremors continued.

Earlier, Catholic priest Father Pius Hal told the Papua New Guinea Today website two children of a local government leader were among five killed by quake-triggered landslips in Mendi town.

Two others were children of a senior Southern Highlands public servant.

In the Western Province, mining infrastructure belonging to Ok Tedi had also been damaged.

Roads are cut off and pictures show massive landslides along roadsides and rivers.

PNG Resource Governance Coalition spokesperson Martyn Namorong said the damage to pipes carrying copper concentrate and mining waste has raised serious concerns about toxic spills and about the gas pipeline that ran from the highlands to Port Moresby.

Portion of the new Mendi - Kandep road has been destroyed following the 7.5 earthquake.

Portion of the new Mendi – Kandep road has been destroyed following the 7.5 earthquake. Photo: Andrew Solomon /radionz