Papua New Guinea’s earthquake death toll rises to 31

The death toll from the strongest earthquake to strike Papua New Guinea’s rugged interior in almost a century, has climbed to 31 and would probably rise further, officials said today, as damage to roads, runways and phone lines slowed relief efforts.

Remote hamlets closest to the epicenter of the 7.5 magnitude quake in the Southern Highlands were buried, killing 13 people, said James Justin, a research officer at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Port Moresby in an email, citing a two-way radio call from a mission station in the region.

Most of the other confirmed fatalities were in or around the provincial capital of Mendi and the town of Tari 40kilometres, from the epicenter, where aftershocks continue to be felt and people afraid their homes may yet collapse have been sleeping in their yards.

A spokesman from the country’s National Disaster Center said a preliminary damage assessment from the quake, which struck the mountainous Southern Highlands some 560 kilometres northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, was still incomplete.

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