Death toll may rise, say officials

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THE death toll from the 7.5 magnitude earthquake which struck the Highlands provinces could be as high as 20 – but this could be confirmed today when a government team reaches the area.
As of yesterday afternoon, it was reported that four had died in Mendi, two in Tari, eight in Koroba and six believed to have been buried under a landslide in Komo.
Acting director of the Department of Mineral Policy and Geohazards Management Chris McKee told The National that four died in Mendi alone but there were others yet to be confirmed.
Hela Governor Philip Undialu said the reported casualties in Komo, Tari and Koroba would be confirmed when the government assessment team reached the area today.
McKee said the earthquake was strong and had “serious effects over a broad area”.
“Information is sketchy at present, but we know that Mendi was hit hard by the earthquake,” he said.
“There are reports of fatalities – four confirmed deaths and another six unconfirmed. Buildings in Mendi were damaged.
“It’s possible that there were fatalities in other places too but we don’t have information from any place other than Mendi at present.
“We know of one landslide near Ok Tedi that has blocked a road.
“It’s likely that there were other landslides in the region.
“After shocks have been recorded – a maximum magnitude of 5.5.
“Aftershocks are likely to continue for several days, but in general will weaken over time.”
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, in a statement last night, said he had ordered the chief of Defence to initiate an immediate response to the earthquake.
“Defence Force personnel in Hela, Southern Highlands and Western Highlands are preparing to deploy when the extent of the damage has been confirmed and targeted relief operations initiated,” he said.
“There are communities that have suffered from this natural disaster, and we are sending our soldiers and other government agencies to support our people in their time of need.
“We know that there have been houses lost, roads cut by landslips and disruption to services.”
Aerial surveys are expected to begin from 6am today to assess the affected areas.
He said soldiers were well trained in this capacity and were eager to get their boots on the ground to lend support.
“Our people can be heartened that response will be properly planned and will be effective. Additional details will be made available as further assessments are provided by the National Disaster Centre and the PNGDF.”