At least 16 dead as strongest earthquake ever hits Papua New Guinea

The earthquake was the strongest ever to hit the country, causing landslides in remote regions and extensive damage 

A local stands next to a damaged house near a landslide in the town of Tari (Photo: The Guardian)
A local stands next to a damaged house near a landslide in the town of Tari (Photo: The Guardian)

At least 16 people have died after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake caused landslides in a remote regions of Papua New Guinea, officials say.

The earthquake, the strongest ever to hit the country, struck the Southern Highlands, Hela Province and the Western Highlands region early on Monday morning, but the extent of the devastation took days to emerge because of the area’s remoteness.

There are unconfirmed reports that the death toll could be as high as 30, with details of "extensive" damage emerging.

The tremor caused ExxonMobil to shut its $19bn (€15bn) liquefied natural gas plant, PNG's biggest export earner.

A number of buildings collapsed and roads were blocked by the landslides. Some phone lines were also cut, Reuters news agency reports.

Southern Highlands governor William Powi said on Wednesday that authorities in his region were still trying to assess the extent of the damage, and his people were traumatized, with the disaster causing “catastrophic havoc and destruction.”

Uvenama Rova, secretary general of the PNG Red Cross, said he had confirmed reports of 11 deaths in the southern highlands region and five in Hela province, though his contacts in the affected regions reported “many” more deaths, entire villages buried under landslips, and mass grieving by affected communities.

The landslides are making it difficult for rescue teams to reach the region, AFP news agency reports.

The Red Cross also said it knew of houses that had “sunk” in the town of Tari in Hela province, where concrete roads had also been destroyed, bridges snapped and the town’s hospital forced to turn away patients.

The governor of Hela province, Philip Undialu, told local media the damage was "extensive".

"Our police station, courthouse, hospital ... even private houses have been ripped apart or sunk into the ground," Mr Undialu said from the country's capital, Port Moresby.

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