Over 30 people believed dead in Papua New Guinea earthquake - report

Local officials inspect the damage to a mosque following Monday's powerful earthquake in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, in Boven Digoel, Papua province, Indonesia. (BNPB via AP)
Local officials inspect the damage to a mosque following Monday's powerful earthquake in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, in Boven Digoel, Papua province, Indonesia. (BNPB via AP)

Sydney – More than 30 people are believed to have died after a powerful earthquake struck Papua New Guinea's (PNG) mountainous interior, a report said on Tuesday as details of "extensive" damage began to emerge.

The 7.5-magnitude tremor struck 90km south of Porgera in the Pacific nation's Enga province early on Monday, with two strong aftershocks rattling the rugged region.

Phone lines were largely cut, but the PNG Post Courier newspaper cited Hela provincial administrator William Bando as saying there were casualties.

It reported that at least 13 died in the Southern Highlands capital Mendi while 18 others were believed to have been killed in nearby Kutubu and Bosave.

ALSO READ: Powerful magnitude 7.5 earthquake rattles homes, gold mine in Papua New Guinea

Some 300 people were injured, it added, and properties damaged, with reports of landslides and sinkholes.

The Papua New Guinea Today website, quoting Catholic priest Pius Hal, said at least 10 died, including four children, in quake-triggered landslides.

AFP was unable to confirm the death toll.

A government assessment team was due to fly into the area on Tuesday to get a better idea of the impact, with the military mobilised to help restore services and infrastructure, the government's Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari said in a statement.

"Information will be provided as this is made available from assessment teams in the area," he added.

'Houses ripped apart'

Hela governor Philip Undialu, who was in the capital Port Moresby, told The National newspaper there was widespread damage.

"The scale of damage, from information we are getting from the ground, is quite extensive," he said, adding that there were around 19 landslides between Mendi and the town of Mount Hagen.

"Our police station, courthouse, hospital ... even private houses have been ripped apart or sunk into the ground.

"It's going to be a massive recovery exercise."

The tremor hit at a depth of 35km around 03:45, US seismologists said, with aftershocks of 6.0 and 6.3 magnitude recorded.

Agnes Kep told the Post Courier she was asleep in Mendi when the quake struck.

ALSO READ: Hundreds evacuated as Papua New Guinea 'dormant' volcano erupts

"We could feel the house and the earth shaking, we wanted to run for the door and out of the house, but it was too late," she said, fearing that if they went outside "the ground might open up and swallow us".

The thatched roof on the house she was in collapsed "but we didn't care, we just clung to each other and waited for the shaking to stop".

"When we came out we barely recognised everything around us, nothing was familiar to us. The house or tree that was there wasn't there anymore," she added.

The region is home to oil and gas production. ExxonMobil PNG said buildings at its Hides Gas Conditioning Plant were damaged but all its staff were "safe and accounted for", with non-essential employees to be evacuated.

Australian resources company Oil Search on Monday said its operations in the area were being shut down as a precaution and for damage assessment, and there were no injuries reported among its staff so far.

Earthquakes are common in PNG, which sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, a hotspot for seismic activity.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Lockdown For
DAYS
HRS
MINS
Voting Booth
As South Africa faces down the third Covid-19 wave, how are you keeping your family safe ?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Staying at home, isolating and being careful
18% - 297 votes
Sanitising and wearing masks when we go out
69% - 1155 votes
Going on as usual, we're not afraid of the virus
13% - 213 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
14.14
-0.1%
Rand - Pound
19.94
-0.4%
Rand - Euro
17.17
-0.8%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.00
-0.9%
Rand - Yen
0.13
-0.4%
Gold
1,842.92
+0.9%
Silver
27.42
+1.2%
Palladium
2,902.50
+1.3%
Platinum
1,229.26
+1.6%
Brent Crude
67.05
-3.3%
Top 40
60,573
+0.6%
All Share
66,598
+0.7%
Resource 10
69,386
-0.1%
Industrial 25
83,277
+0.9%
Financial 15
12,685
+1.5%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo