Earthquake in Papua New Guinea destroys hundreds of homes

Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby
Earthquake in Papua New Guinea destroys hundreds of homes This undated handout photo received on Mar. 19, 2024 courtesy of Michael Dai shows locals standing on a road which was damaged by a landslide near Gumine Station, in the Simbu Province of Papua New Guinea.
Michael Dai/AFP

A strong shallow earthquake in Papua New Guinea has destroyed hundreds of homes, an official said, as the Pacific island country also grapples with the aftermath of widespread flooding and deadly landslides.

The magnitude 6.9 quake at a depth of 40 kilometers [25 miles] hit around dawn Sunday near Ambunti in East Sepik province, according to the United States Geological Survey, and was felt across Papua New Guinea’s northern and eastern highlands.

Mary Ponifasio, a doctor in Kainantu, about 400 kilometers [249 miles] east of the quake epicenter, said she had woken up early to get ready for church when the quake struck.

“The building started swaying slowly and then more strongly. I slowly realized that this was a huge earthquake,” she told BenarNews. “You felt like the ground beneath was unstable and would open up any second. You feel helpless and anticipate the worst, so I knelt down and prayed.”

Allan Bird, the governor of East Sepik province at the epicenter of the earthquake, said on Sunday that 1,000 homes have been destroyed by the quake.

“We are still assessing the impact and are collecting reports as I write this so the final count could be much higher,” he said in a statement. “Sadly we have several casualties already.”

Photos posted on Facebook by East Sepik Development Forum, a civil society discussion group, showed stilt houses at the village of Mamari collapsed into a tributary of the Sepik River. 

Papua New Guinea, which makes up the eastern half of the giant island of New Guinea north of Australia, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because of its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

It is also dealing with the aftermath of torrential rains and landslides that caused about two dozen deaths over the past week while king tides have brought fresh water and food shortages for thousands of people in coastal areas. The natural disasters are on top of economically damaging riots in the capital Port Moresby in January and dozens of deaths in tribal warfare last month.

Papua New Guinea media reported on Monday that the central government has set aside 500 million kina ($132 million) for relief and recovery efforts following the succession of natural disasters.

Prime Minister James Marape said the funds would be taken from several government programs including its flagship road construction, Connect PNG, as well from donor nations, according to the National newspaper.

“This financial mobilization is aimed at ensuring that the support reaches the communities most in need without delay and restoration is made to areas affected,” Marape said, according to the report. 

“Papua New Guinea, has been hit hard by earthquake, flooding caused by heavy rain and ensuing landslips, king tides, strong winds and others.”

Papua New Guinea, the most populous Pacific island country, has great expanses of rugged mountainous territory that combined with limited government resources and insufficient roads and airports, makes responding to frequent natural disasters a challenge.

Bird, the East Sepik governor, who was part of an unsuccessful attempt earlier this year to get Parliament to vote on a motion of no confidence in Marape, said the provincial government has already allocated funds to respond to the “multi-prong disaster.” 

“We can't afford to wait on anyone else to help us because many parts of the country are also facing flood damage at the same time as we are,” he said.


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