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3 dead after 7.5-magnitude earthquake hits Papua New Guinea

By
Ed Adamczyk
A landslide at a Papua New Guinea copper mine followed a 7.5-magnitude earthquake. Landslides and destruction of property were reported across the affected area, and at least three people are confirmed dead. Photo courtesy of American Geophysical Union/Luke L. Puree
A landslide at a Papua New Guinea copper mine followed a 7.5-magnitude earthquake. Landslides and destruction of property were reported across the affected area, and at least three people are confirmed dead. Photo courtesy of American Geophysical Union/Luke L. Puree

Feb. 26 (UPI) -- A powerful 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea early Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey said -- killing at least three people.

The earthquake occurred at a depth of nearly 21 miles, the USGS said. Initial reports estimated the earthquake's magnitude at 8.0, but the figure was later downgraded. It occurred in Papua New Guinea's Kom-Magarima district on the island the nation shares with Indonesia, north of Australia. Another earthquake, with a 5.5 magnitude was recorded about 30 minutes after the first.

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The dead were located in the town of Mendi, Joseph Birisi, executive with the Southern Highlands Provincial Health authority, told Radio New Zealand. He said the dead were two parents and their child, without offering additional information.

Lawmaker Manasseh Makiba said he received preliminary information from ExxonMobil personnel working in the area of the earthquake.

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"The reports are coming that the earthquake was very huge, and there was some casualties. There were landslides and destruction of some properties and houses, and there were reports of some lives being lost, about 10," Makiba said.

Roads and rivers in the region were blocked by landslides and some buildings collapsed, Birisi said. He added that the one hospital in the area had its power and water supply temporarily interrupted by the earthquake.

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The area is home to mining operations, and damage to pipelines leading from a copper mines were observed, Martyn Namorong of the PNG Resource Governance Coalition said.

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Referring to photos of twisted pipes, Namorong said, "They're showing major landslides. These are not small landslides, they're massive landslides. The damage is very, very significant."

The epicenter of the earthquake was near key infrastructure of an ExxonMobil liquid natural gas project. Oil Search, a company also involved in operations in the area, informed the Australian Stock exchange of a shutdown in its production facilities in the quake area.

PNG's National Disaster Center, the country's military and its Red Cross are all working with provincial authorities to assess damage and help survivors.

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