Papua New Guinea declared a state of emergency in parts of the country late on Thursday, as poor weather, terrain and roads kept aid operations slow even days after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake. The toll from the February 26 earthquake has risen to 31.
The earthquake had struck the country’s mountainous interior region, including the remote, heavily forested provinces of the Southern Highlands and Hela, triggering landslides and sinkholes. Aid has not yet arrived in several towns, local officials told Reuters. People are “dying slowly” in hamlets as helicopters, the only means of rescue, are “hardly coming”, a provincial administrator was quoted as saying.
The state of emergency has cleared the way for government aid and military help to reach affected areas quicker. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill called it an “unprecedented disaster”, and said an “appropriate response” by the government was underway. A restoration authority will work towards recovery for the next four years, he said. The government allocated 450 million kina (Rs 905 crore) for disaster relief.
Around 6.7 lakh people live within 100 km of the epicentre, according to the Red Cross. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies announced $221,000 (Rs 1.4 crore) to help relief efforts and will send first aid, water, mosquito nets and shelters to the region. Australia has promised 200,000 Australian dollars (Rs 1.01 crore) in aid.
Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a hotspot for seismic activity. Monday’s earthquake was the strongest in the region in almost a century, according to Reuters.