Papua New Guinea Hit by Powerful Aftershock as Quake’s Toll Mounts
Papua New Guinea, which is still recovering from a deadly earthquake last week, was hit by a powerful aftershock Wednesday that left an estimated 18 people dead or injured, adding to a mounting toll from the quakes, officials said.
The exact toll from the magnitude 6.7 aftershock that struck just after midnight was not immediately known, Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Center said.
More than 100 people were killed in a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that struck on Feb. 26, said Uvenama Rova, secretary general of the Papua New Guinea Red Cross. That quake and subsequent aftershocks were centered in the country’s remote Highlands Region, and a complete picture of the scope of the destruction has been slow to emerge.
At least 67 people were killed in Hela Province in central Papua New Guinea, according to an estimate by the Hela Council of Churches. Another 38 or 39 died in Southern Highlands Province, the Papua New Guinea Red Cross said.
“Loss of family houses is spread across the province,” said a report by the Hela Council of Churches. “Many families are sleeping together in temporary camps under canvases.”
The report added that health clinics, water supplies and gardens that residents depend on for food were all damaged in last week’s earthquake.
“Citizens have become traumatized,” the report said. “People are confused and frightened and many more are refusing to return to their own houses.”
The Papua New Guinea Red Cross said as many as 143,000 people could have been affected by the earthquake, with 17,000 displaced from their homes.
The government of Papua New Guinea has yet to release an official death toll. The National Disaster Center said Wednesday that an estimated 55 to 75 people had been killed.
But as of Tuesday an assessment team had still not yet reached communities near the epicenter.
“We are anxious to reach communities while there is a lull in what is usually a season of heavy rain,” Udaya Regmi, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ country office, said in a statement. “A big downpour could bring landslides in hillsides already destabilized by the earthquake, cause floods and contaminate water.”
William Powi, governor of Southern Highlands Province, told The Associated Press that collapsed homes and landslides had killed at least 39 people in last week’s quake, and the blockage of feeder roads was impeding recovery efforts.
“It is beyond the capacity of the provincial government to cope with the magnitude of destruction and devastation,” he said. “Our people are traumatized and finding it difficult to cope.”
Papua New Guinea, which comprises the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and several smaller islands, has eight million people who mostly live in rural areas. It is one of the least developed countries in the region, and the lack of road and communication networks across its mountainous central region has slowed the disaster response, officials said.
“The rugged terrain and loss of communications in the area impacted means it is taking time to build a complete picture of the damage but we know that tens of thousands of people are reported as requiring humanitarian assistance,” Winston Peters, New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister, said in a statement on Monday.
New Zealand has sent two air force C-130 Hercules aircraft loaded with relief supplies to aid recovery efforts.