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Areas affected by landslides are seen after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake, in Hela, Papua New Guinea February 26, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. [Photo/Agencies]

MELBOURNE - Up to 14 people were killed in landslides and by collapsed buildings during a powerful earthquake in the remote Papua New Guinea highlands, police and a hospital worker said on Tuesday, with unconfirmed reports of up to 30 people killed.

The 7.5 magnitude quake that rocked the region early on Monday also damaged mining and power infrastructure and led Exxon-Mobil Corp to shut its $19 billion liquefied natural gas plant, the country"s biggest export earner.

Two building collapses and a landslide killed 12 people in Mendi, the provincial capital of the Southern Highlands, said Julie Sakol, a nurse at Mendi General Hospital, where their bodies were brought to the morgue.

"People are afraid. The shaking is still continuing. There"s nowhere to go but people are just moving around," she said.

Dozens of aftershocks rattled the area, including a 5.7 quake on Tuesday afternoon, the US Geological Survey reported.

Police in Mendi said 14 people were killed in the initial quake, including three in Poroma, south of Mendi.

"They were killed by landslides destroying families sleeping in their houses," said Naring Bongi, a police officer in Mendi.

Provincial Administrator William Bando said more than 30 people were believed to have been killed in the rugged region, about 560 kilometers northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier reported.

The PNG disaster management office said it was verifying the reports but it could take days to confirm a death toll.

News sources also said that around 300 people were injured during the 35 km deep tremor.

The quake also caused panic and damaged buildings across the border in eastern Indonesia.

Aid agencies said they were ready to help but were also awaiting more information. Udaya Regmi, the country head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said it had 20 volunteers on standby but that getting accurate information remained difficult.

ExxonMobil said communications with nearby communities remained down, hampering efforts to assess damage to facilities that feed the PNG LNG plant.

"Communications continue to be one of the most significant challenges," the company said in a statement.

Its partner, Oil Search, said a review of all of its facilities and infrastructure would take at least a week.

Miners Barrick Gold Corp and Ok Tedi Mining also reported some damage to infrastructure.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific"s "Ring of Fire", a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates. Part of PNG"s northern coast was devastated in 1998 by a tsunami, generated by a 7.0 quake, which killed about 2,200 people.

Reuters - Xinhua - Ap

 

(China Daily 02/28/2018 page11)