Papua New Guinea earthquake death toll rises, reaching 67

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake has caused three aftershocks, each stronger than magnitude 5 

The earthquake has caused landslides in remote parts of the region. (photo:BBC)
The earthquake has caused landslides in remote parts of the region. (photo:BBC)

One week after Papua New Guinea was hit by a powerful earthquake, aid workers say the death toll has reached at least 67.

The country’s remote highlands were again rocked by strong aftershock, raising the number to three aftershocks, each stronger than magnitude 5.

All four regions struck by the quake remain under a state of emergency.

Aid is beginning to trickle into the worst affected regions but the extent of the devastation has taken days to emerge because of the area’s remoteness – about 500km from the capital Port Moresby.

Udaya Regmi, the head of the Red Cross office in Papua New Guinea, said the death toll was expected to keep climbing.

“We know at least 500 people are injured and 127,000 people need immediate aid such as food, water, shelter and healthcare” Regmi said.

“Many places that have been struck are still inaccessible, except by walking in, so there is a huge supply issue in delivering aid. We definitely need more help from our neighbours and the aid community, this is turning into a humanitarian crisis.”

Isaac Pulupe, a resident of Tari, in Hela Province, which bore the brunt of the quake, told Radio New Zealand that most buildings in his town of 10,000 had collapsed, including the school and part of the hospital.

“Most people have been traumatised emotionally from all that is happening and the continual earthquakes going on, their gardens and even homes have collapsed.” Pulupe said.

“We’ve heard that there are international charity organisations committed to come to help us, but we haven’t seen them yet. We only have the provincial government team trying to go around doing the assessments.”

Last week, the Red Cross committed several hundred thousand dollars to the earthquake relief effort, but admitted they were struggling to access the worst affected areas, as only helicopters could get in.

The Australian government donated a plane, AU$200,000 (£112,000) and relief supplies such as tarpaulins and water purification tablets.

Darian Clark, the humanitarian duty officer at the Australian high commission in Papua New Guinea, said the effects of the quake were catastrophic.

“This was the biggest earthquake in a hundred years and it spread 150 kilometres across the fault line,” he said. “A number of urban settlements, as well as villages, have been affected. Many in the form of landslides and landslips, which means that roads have been cut off, water contaminated, power knocked out and other widespread effects for the local people.

While earthquakes are a common occurrence in Papua New Guinea, which is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire where most of the world’s earthquake activity occurs, the latest tremors have been particularly catastrophic.