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19 Mar 2018 12:00
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  •   Home > News > International

    PNG landslides triggered by earthquake trap locals in villages, send others fleeing

    Aid is slow to reach people in remote parts of the Papua New Guinea highlands where the "ground is still shaking" following a deadly earthquake which has collapsed the slopes of an extinct volcano, burying villages and sending residents fleeing to a nearb

    People in remote parts of the Papua New Guinea highlands say landslides have trapped them in their villages following a powerful earthquake that hit the region.

    The quake and aftershocks have collapsed the slopes of Mt Sisa, an extinct volcano south-west of Tari, burying villages and sending residents fleeing to a nearby ridge.

    Several hundred people — the remaining population of eight nearby villages — are staying around the Huiya airstrip, relying on supplies arriving by helicopter and plane.

    "At night, we get all our things and come down here," local leader Osman Ax said.

    "We are all staying here because the ground is still shaking."

    Cracks run all over Huiya, and a few kilometres away the side of a mountain has slipped 40 metres downwards with its vegetation intact, a new cliff formed across its face.

    The towering, forested faces of Mt Sisa are now crumbling slopes of silt that have created a moonscape at the mountain's base.

    Those landslides are preventing people from fleeing the district.

    "Our houses, pigs and dogs are all gone," the local leader said.

    "We can't escape to another place, because it's too hard to go."

    Provincial authorities are discussing evacuating Huiya, but the local councillor told the ABC there were more than 1000 people there, a number likely to be beyond the capacity of the limited number of aircraft operating in the quake zone.

    'We have done as much as we can'

    People are relying on food and water dropped by helicopter and plane, but they said they needed more, and still lacked shelter.

    There are other villages across the quake zone with access roads blocked, and the Hela provincial Government said it had not been able to get to all the communities affected by the quake.

    Aid took more than a week to reach many communities and some are still waiting.

    The bulk of the initial deliveries came from the Australian Government and was delivered by oil and gas company Oil Search.

    PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill asked people for patience and said his government was starting to contribute.

    "We have done as much as we can," he said.

    "Apart from the destruction of the infrastructure for us to get to the communities, the roads are non-accessible, the chopper uplifting of supplies and people has been difficult, combined with the weather that has not been favourable to flying conditions, so it has been compounding the problem but it is getting there now."

    Geologists said the quake was far too deep to have been caused by extractive activity, but there was still unrest around the epicentre, with some people accusing oil and gas companies of triggering the tremors.

    An angry crowd in Tari told the Prime Minister they wanted an explanation more than aid, although the Hela Provincial Government has promised to conduct an inquiry into the cause of the quake.

    The confirmed death toll from the earthquake is about 90, but the number of reported deaths goes well above 100, and some people are still missing.

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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