PNG struggling to assess quake damage

PNG struggling to assess quake damage

SYDNEY – Agence France-Presse
PNG struggling to assess quake damage

Communication blackouts and blocked roads hampered rescue efforts on Feb.28 as Papua New Guinea struggled to assess the damage from a massive earthquake which has forced oil and gas fields to close in a blow to the economy.

The 7.5-magnitude tremor struck 90 kilometers south of Porgera in the Pacific nation’s mountainous Enga province early Feb. 26, with aftershocks continuing to rumble through the rugged region.

Local media reported that aerial surveys of the worst-hit areas showed bridges and infrastructure destroyed, along with private homes, while images revealed large cracks in the ground.

Some roads were blocked by landslides and sinkholes, while others had collapsed in places.

With communications and access impaired, conflicting details emerged of the toll and extent of the damage. The PNG Post-Courier newspaper on Feb. 27 said more than 30 people may have died, but on Feb. 28 it reported that only 14 victims had been confirmed, in the Southern Highlands and Hela province.

All were killed when their houses collapsed as they slept, it said. The PNG police said in a statement it understood more than 20 lives had been lost. No official government death toll has been provided. Assessment teams were at work, with the military mobilized to help restore services.

Australia said it had sent a transport plane to conduct aerial surveillance.