Sydney: The death toll from an earthquake that hit Papua New Guinea last month has topped 100 with thousands injured, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said today, warning it will take years for the region to recover.
The Pacific nation’s mountainous interior was struck by a 7.5-magnitude tremor on February 26, triggering landslides that blocked roads, caused power outages and cut off villages.
Communities have also been rattled by strong aftershocks, sparking fears among disenchanted and suspicious residents that the shaking was somehow caused by oil and gas operations in the area.
“Tragically, the Highlands earthquake has already claimed the lives of an estimated more than 100 Papua New Guineans, with many more still missing and thousands of people injured,” O’Neill said.
The premier has visited the devastated region and said his government and aid agencies were focused on delivering clean water, food and shelter to victims, and restoring electricity and communications.
“There will be no quick fix, the damage from this disaster will take months and years to be repaired,” he said.
“The social damage to our communities is large, and this earthquake will be the source of sadness and sorrow for generations to come,” the prime minister added, describing the plight of one woman who lost six relatives including children.
“This is a story of tragedy and loss that is repeated in village after village throughout the disaster area.”
The remote Southern Highlands region is home to the impoverished country’s biggest-ever development – the USD 19 billion PNG LNG project operated by US energy giant ExxonMobil.
Traumatised villagers are suspicious of the plant’s operators and fearful they might have been using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and destabilised the rock structure underneath, the Post-Courier reported this week.