Papua New Guinea hit by strong quake

SYDNEY • Papua New Guinea sent troops and rescue workers to the disaster scene after a powerful earthquake struck the Pacific nation's mountainous interior yesterday and damaged a gas plant and other buildings.

The authorities warned of aftershocks and landslides. There was no official information on fatalities or injuries in the rugged region.

Assessment teams were heading to affected areas near the 7.5-magnitude quake's epicentre, which the US Geological Survey (USGS) said was some 90km south of Porgera in Enga province.

The tremor hit at a depth of 35km around 3.45am local time (1.45am yesterday Singapore time), US seismologists said, adding that there was no tsunami threat. A 6.0-magnitude aftershock was later recorded nearby by the USGS at 4.26pm.

"It is advisable to stay out of multi-storey 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," the chief secretary to the government, Mr Isaac Lupari, said in a statement.

The region is home to oil and gas production. ExxonMobil PNG said buildings at its Hides Gas Conditioning Plant were damaged but all its staff were "safe and accounted for", with non-essential employees to be evacuated.

Australian resources company Oil Search said its operations in the area were being shut down as a precaution and for damage assessment, and there were no injuries reported among its staff so far.

Mr Felix Taranu, a seismologist at the Geophysical Observatory in the capital Port Moresby, said social media posts reported blackouts and damage to buildings at Porgera, although he was not aware of any injuries. He said the quake was felt strongly at Mount Hagen, 168km from the epicentre.

"It will take some time to get assessment teams out there and get a clear picture of what's happening," he added.

The director of the Geohazards Management Division, Mr Chris McKee, told AFP he had yet to receive any reports of damage, although there was an unconfirmed report of fatalities. "There's an unconfirmed report of some deaths from Mendi (in the Southern Highlands), but I'm not exactly aware of where the fatalities occurred and this will have to be corroborated," he said.

The quake's epicentre was in rugged terrain 612km north-west of Port Moresby.

USGS said earlier that some casualties and damage were possible and that recent earthquakes in the area had caused landslides. It said homes in the region were "a mix of vulnerable and earthquake-resistant construction". The impact should be relatively localised, it added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2018, with the headline 'Papua New Guinea hit by strong quake'. Subscribe