Powerful aftershocks continue to rock Papua New Guinea after a magnitude-7.5 earthquake struck the country’s southern highlands.
The quake hit in the early hours of Monday morning at a relatively shallow depth of 35 kilometres.
The epicentre was about 96 kilometres south-west of Mendi, the capital of Southern Highlands province, a town of more than 50,000 people.
Chief Secretary to Government Ambassador Isaac Lupari said in a statement that disaster assessment teams had been sent to parts of the Southern Highlands Province and Hela Province.
“The National Disaster Centre is working with provincial authorities to assess any damage and impacts on service delivery in the area,” his statement said.
Mr Lupari said it is important that people are aware of the dangers of earthquake aftershocks.
“It is advisable to stay out of multi-story buildings, to be aware of the potential of landslides, and to be prepared to move to open ground in the event that an aftershock is felt.”
Brisbane miner Derek Schock, who is based in the nearby Star Mountains, had never been in an earthquake before and was awoken by the tremors.
“I actually thought I was dreaming,” Mr Schock told ABC.
“We get a lot of rain and storms so initially I thought it was just another heavy rain and wind gust.
“But then I noticed it getting worse, then the house started to shake.”
Night earthquake result, Renbo Supermarket Upstairs in Mt. Hagen WHP, PNG, huge destruction, all the roofs & shelves were fallen off….
Mr Schock said the tremors lasted up to 40 seconds.
“I was going to get under the table as a precaution but it stopped. There were some smaller aftershocks,” he said.
“There has been a significant landslide and the road is cut off.”
The area where the earthquake struck is home to a number of oil and gas operations as well as coffee plantations.
ExxonMobil Corp has shut its Hides gas conditioning plant as a precaution to assess any damages to its facilities.
Chris McKee, acting director of geohazards management for the Papua New Guinea government, said tens of thousands of people lived in the forested highlands region.
He said many people in the region had homes constructed with local materials that would likely hold up fairly well but more concerning was any heavy masonry used in industrial construction.
The highlands lie along an earthquake zone known as the Papuan Fold Belt, which is the fault responsible for the mountain range that forms the spine of the nation.
It is not clear yet if there are any casualties, but Don Blakeman from the US Geological Survey said significant damage was likely.
“Any geologic situation like steep valleys or any type of construction, [like] buildings, mines, that sort of thing, since this is a shallow earthquake it shakes all of that a lot more,” he told the ABC.
“Landslides are a lot more common and should be expected.”
The Geological Survey said there was no danger of a tsunami.