The death toll for Monday's earthquake in Papua New Guinea stands at 15 as rescuers struggle to reach the hardest-hit mountainous highlands. It is expected to rise as rescuers reach more remote areas.
Monday's magnitude 7.5 quake killed at least 15 people in the Southern Highlands province, the local governor confirmed on Wednesday. 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the Papua New Guinea capital of Port Moresby on Monday
Southern Highlands Governor William Powi told The Associated Press that communication in the province — which lies about 560 kilometers north of the capital, Port Moresby — remains difficult and the death toll may rise.
"We are looking at massive, catastrophic havoc and destruction," he said, adding: "There are people who are traumatized, people in terrible devastation who have never felt this kind of destruction before."
A magnitude 6.0 tremor hit just before 1 p.m. (0300 UTC) on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey reported, creating landslides and damaging mining, gas and power infrastructure.
A spokesman for Papua New Guinea's National Disaster Centre said a preliminary assessment of damage was still underway as officials tried to fly by helicopter to cutoff areas.
Three oil fields and a liquefied natural gas plant run by ExxonMobil have stopped operations pending an examination of damage.
Australia has sent a C-130 military transport plane to help with aerial surveillance.
"We are saddened to hear reports of lives lost and many people being injured," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said. "Given the challenging terrain and remoteness of the area, we expect that the extent of the damage will become clearer in coming days."
Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific's Ring of Fire, a hot spot for seismic activity caused by friction between tectonic plates.
amp, jbh/kms (Reuters, AP)