Powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake hits Papua New Guinea, disrupts communications, oil and gas operations

Wellington/Melbourne: A powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea’s Southern Highlands province early on Monday, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, disrupting communications and oil and gas operations.

The tremor hit near the centre of Papua New Guinea’s main island around 560 kilometres (350 miles) from the capital, Port Moresby, at around 3.45 am local time (1545 GMT Sunday), according to the USGS. It was about 35 kilometres (22 miles) deep.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, although Papua New Guinea’s disaster management authority did not respond to a request for comment.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said there was no risk of a tsunami in the aftermath of the quake.

Felix Taranu, a seismologist at the Geophysical Observatory in the capital Port Moresby said the quake was felt strongly at Mount Hagen, some 168 kilometres away.

He said social media posts reported blackouts and damage to buildings at Porgera, although he was not aware of any injuries.

"It will take some time to get assessment teams out there and get a clear picture of what's happening," he said.

ExxonMobil Corp said it had shut its Hides gas conditioning plant, close to the quake’s epicentre, to assess if there was any damage.

“All of ExxonMobil PNG Limited’s employees and contractors at its Hides facilities have been accounted for and we are pleased to report they are all safe,” ExxonMobil’s Papua New Guinea spokeswoman said in an email.

Gas is processed at Hides and transported along a 700 kilometres (435 miles) line that feeds a liquefied natural gas plant near Port Moresby for shipping.

Papua New Guinea oil and gas explorer Oil Search said in a statement it had shut production in the quake-affected area and there had been several aftershocks with magnitudes greater than five.

It said there were no reports of injuries.

Several aid agencies said poor communications in the densely forested area made damage and injury assessment difficult.

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.

With inputs from AFP and Reuters


Updated Date: Feb 26, 2018 07:29 AM

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