Earthquake death toll could be hundreds

THERE is still no clear estimate of the number of people killed in Monday’s 7.5 earthquake in Southern Highlands and Hela Province, but it has been suggested that figure could run to the hundreds.

  • Staff Reporter
  • 02 March 2018
  • 05:01
  • News
Earthquake death toll could be hundreds There have been massive landslips in the Highlands

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While the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on Monday put the figure at 20, it is becoming clearer that the figure is higher than that, with reports coming in from remote districts of lives lost, destruction of homes and property.
 
Yesterday afternoon O'Neill said relief efforts were already under way, and further assessments provided to focus operations to areas in need.
 
"Members of the PNGDF and disaster officers were dispatched to the affected areas immediately following the earthquake, and are working with provincial authorities, particularly with the governors of Hela and Southern Highlands provinces.
 
"Essential government departments are already delivering relief, and we are further working with partners in the International Community to utilise specialist relief capabilities to reach our people and communities affected by the earthquake," O'Neill said.
 
Radio New Zealand Pacific (RNZI) reported that disaster teams were still yet to reach many parts of the Highlands which were hit hard by the earthquake, from which the extent of damage is only starting to emerge.
 
"There is still no official death toll from the quake, but as accounts of the damage start to filter through fears are growing that it could be hundreds of dead rather than dozens," RNZ Pacific said.
 
The radio station went on to say that 30 people are thought to have been killed in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces. Reports from Western province indicate as many as ten people died there too.
 
"However the quake triggered many big landslides which have cut off access to hundreds of remote villages in the region. This has frustrated attempts by national and provincial disaster officials to reach most affected communities in the four worst-hit provinces - Hela, Southern Highlands, Western and Enga," RNZ Pacific said.
 
Extra police and military personnel have been deployed to the region, but are also limited in their movement. To compound limitations, communication links are still severely disrupted in Hela and Southern Highlands, where mobile phone towers were toppled by the earthquake.
 
Early reports from the Southern Highlands capital Mendi depicted widespread damage to buildings, roads and infrastructure in the province. As many as 14 people are feared dead from landslides or building collapse.
 
It is a similar story in the capital of Hela province, Tari, which is the closest major town to the earthquake's epicentre. Communication with Tari had largely been blocked until Wednesday and remains patchy. Tari locals who RNZ Pacific has spoken to indicate there could have been as many as 16 deaths in Tari.
 
A local man, Isaac Bulube, said he understood the death toll in Tari itself was probably less than 20 but that destruction was all around.
 
"There's a lot of residents' places totally destroyed, and some entire families don't have a house to live in," he said.
 
"Most of the schools, their buildings have gone down; a lot of cracks on the roads, even Tari airport has a crack on the runway, making it impossible for planes to land. There's a lot of destruction."
 
Across the region, many of the quake's casualties appear to have been taken out by landslides. Aerial footage shows the quake triggered many big landslides which have blocked whole valleys and deformed substantial tracts of hillsides, RNZ Pacific reported.
 
 

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