PORT MORESBY: At least five people were killed and an estimated 1,000 homes destroyed when a magnitude 6.9 earthquake rocked Papua New Guinea, officials said on Monday as disaster crews poured into the region.

Dozens of villages nestled on the banks of the country’s famed Sepik River were already battling soaking floods when the quake struck early Sunday morning. “So far, around 1,000 homes have been lost,” said East Sepik Governor Allan Bird, adding that emergency crews were “still assessing the impact” from a tremor that “damaged most parts of the province”.

Provincial police commander Christopher Tamari said that authorities had so far recorded five deaths in the wake of the disaster. Tamari cautioned that, with emergency crews still venturing into the remote and jungle-clad region, the number of fatalities “could be more”.

Photos showed damaged wooden houses with thatched roofs collapsing into the surrounding knee-high floodwaters, while an ageing bridge in the provincial capital of Wewak buckled under the strain. Regional governor Bird said there was a pressing need to get medical supplies, clean drinking water, and temporary shelter into the disaster zone.

Prime Minister James Marape has approved a $130 million emergency funding package to help recovery efforts following “a spate of natural disasters” across the country.

“Papua New Guinea has been recently hit hard by (the) earthquake, flooding caused by heavy rain and ensuing landslips, king tides, strong winds, and others,” he said in a statement following the quake.

Flooding, landslides and torrential rains earlier this month killed at least 23 people in Papua New Guinea’s interior Highlands region. The Sepik River twists for hundreds of kilometres through Papua New Guinea’s East Sepik province, flowing down from the jungle highlands and out towards the tropical coast.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2024

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