Death Toll In Papua New Guinea Quake Rises To 31

Days after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the interior of Papua New Guinea, the death toll is continuing to rise as rescue workers strive to reach isolated communities despite blocked and damaged roads.

Officials said that at least 31 people were killed by the quake and subsequent landslides, more than double the initial reports, and that the toll is expected to rise further, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The wire service continued:

"Remote hamlets closest to the epicenter of the 7.5 magnitude quake in the Southern Highlands were buried, killing 13 people, said James Justin, a research officer at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Port Moresby in an email, citing a two-way radio call from a mission station in the region.

"Most of the other confirmed fatalities were in or around the provincial capital of Mendi and the town of Tari 40 km (25 miles) from the epicenter, where aftershocks continue to be felt and people afraid their homes may yet collapse have been sleeping in their yards.

" 'Tari is completely shut down,' Mark Mendai, head of the district's Development Authority told Reuters by phone."

As NPR previously reported, the quake was followed by a number of aftershocks and landslides, and damage to phone lines made it difficult to immediately assess the scale of the disaster.

Now blocked roads and cracked runways are continuing to hamper efforts to bring aid to affected communities.

"Rescuers are still trying to reach some of the hardest-hit areas in the rugged and mountainous highland region of the Pacific nation," Michael Sullivan reported for NPR on Wednesday.

There are concerns about the earthquake's economic impact as well as the human toll. Oil and gas production has been halted at several facilities, and work at coffee plantations and a gold mine has also been interrupted, The Associated Press reports.

On Wednesday, the AP spoke to Southern Highlands Governor William Powi, who described the situation in dire terms:

" 'We are looking at massive, catastrophic havoc and destruction,' Powi said. ...

" 'There are people who are traumatized, people in terrible devastation who have never felt this kind of destruction before,' Powi said. 'It has really brought a lot of fear into people's lives. ...

" 'We need massive assistance ... We need food, infrastructure maintenance, and to bring comfort to our people who are homeless and displaced.' "

Australia has promised to help fly in resources like tarps and water purification kits, deploying a C-130 transport plan to assist, the wire services report.

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