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More than 30 people are believed to have been killed in PNG earthquake

 More than 30 people are believed to have been killed in the massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces Monday.

Provincial authorities say more than 300 mainly villagers have been injured and properties destroyed.

Although communication network into the two provinces have been cut-off, reports through satellite communication by Hela Provincial Administrator William Bando said there had been unconfirmed reports of more than 30 deaths.

Sketchy reports indicated that more than 13 people have been reportedly killed in the Southern Highlands capital Mendi, while another 18 people have also been reportedly killed in the most affected areas of Kutubu and Bosave.

The quake, reported widely by the world media, hit in the early hours at a relatively shallow depth of 25 kilometres.

Developers of the multi-million LNG project in Hela and Southern Highlands are preparing to evacuate non-essential staff because of this.

Bando said it was a severe natural disaster which had claimed the lives of many in the two provinces, creating sinkholes and landslides.

Electricity supply in the two provinces has been disrupted while flights have also been cancelled.

He said the Komo Airport was believed to have suffered damages to half of the runway.

 Bando, who was to fly to Tari from Port Moresby, was also unable to leave because the airport was reportedly closed.

Unconfirmed reports from Mendi said that the earthquake was so powerful that people did not sleep, while there have been reports of landslides, landslips and sinkholes in several places and deaths.

The Department of Mineral Policy and Geoharzard Management said the 7.5 magnitude earthquake was centered about 30km south of Tari and 40km northwest of Lake Kutubu, (in Bosave) Southern Highlands Province, at a depth of 25km.

It said that the earthquake occurred as a result of fault movements in the Papuan Fold and Thrust Belt, which runs parallel to the axial mountain range of PNG.

“There is potential for significant damage from this earthquake because of the large magnitude and shallow depth of the event. A number of aftershocks have occurred, and more are likely in the coming days. The largest of the aftershocks so far is M5.5. There is little possibility that this earthquake would have generated a tsunami,” the DMPGM said.

Infrastructure like roads and bridges have all been destroyed, cutting off traffic in the two provinces.

However, National Disaster director Martin Mose said all reports on the overall damages should be ready by today when the government team flies in this morning to access the situation, some 28 hours after the disaster.

Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari said the National Government has dispatched disaster assessment teams to parts of Southern Highlands and Hela following the earthquake.

“The National Disaster Centre is working with provincial authorities to assess any damage and impacts on service delivery in the area.

“The Papua New Guinea Defence Force has also been mobilised to assist with the assessment and the delivery of assistance to affected people, as well as the restoration of services and infrastructure.

“Information will be provided as this is made available from assessment teams in the area.

“As this assessment process is underway, it is important that people in the Southern Highlands and Hela be aware of the dangers of earthquake aftershocks. It is advisable to stay out of multi-story buildings, to be aware of the potential of landslides, and to be prepared to move to open ground in the event that an aftershock is felt,” Lupari said.

Hela Governor Philip Undialu has sent condolence messages to all the families who have lost lives in the early hours of Monday from the earthquake.

Undialu said last night that a technical team will travel to Southern Highlands and Hela today to assess and establish what urgently needs to be done. He said the Prime Minister Peter O’Neill is scheduled to travel up to the area with him and other leaders from the area.

Undialu said he had to put off his off shore meeting with vital stakeholders to return and be with the people, and to be here to lead as the Highlands Province goes through this problem.

“First of all, I pass our sincere condolences to all the families that have lost lives. Our government will do all we can to support you all and to immediately see what can be done,” Mr Undialu said last night.

“To date we have not got an official figure, although we have, of the casualties, but we just want to tell our people, we are aware of what has happened, the government is already onto this and we will do all we can to help.” he said last night. We know this is very serious and we are all with you in prayer and we will help immediately.”

Last night Undialu met with Prime Minister O’Neill and all other leaders from Southern Highlands and Hela to address this issue.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has ordered an immediate response to the earthquake affecting Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces.

O’Neill said in a statement last night that he had ordered the Chief of the Defence to immediately initiate a response.

“I have ordered the Chief of the Defence to initiate an immediate response to the earthquake this morning (Monday) in the Highlands,” he said. “Defence Force personnel in Hela, Southern Highlands and Western Highlands provinces are preparing to deploy when the extent of the damage has been confirmed and targeted relief operations initiated.

“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.

“We know that there have been houses lost, roads cut by landslips and a disruption to services.

“At 6am Tuesday air operations will continue to assess the affected areas. Our Defence Force have a constitutional obligation to provide support to provincial Governments and the National Disaster Centre to assess the damage and play a significant part in the response.

“Defence Force men and women are well trained in this capacity and are eager to get their boots on the ground to lend support.

“Our people can be heartened that response will be properly planned and will be effective.

“Additional details will be made available as further assessments are provided by the National Disaster Centre and the PNGDF,” O’Neill said.

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