PNG's East New Britain woken by big quake

4:26 pm on 30 March 2018

People in Papua New Guinea's East New Britain have been woken early on Good Friday by a magnitude-6.9 earthquake.

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Photo: USGC

According to the US Geological Survey, the quake was centred on land at a depth of ten kilometres in Pomio district, 144 kilometres east of Kimbe.

It's the same area around the south east coast of New Britain where a 6.3 quake hit on Monday, as well as a 5.6 quake three weeks ago.

The quake woke communities across New Britain at around 7:00 AM local time, prompting the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre to issue an initial warning for within 300 kilometres of the epicentre.

Residents in the region have spoken of a quake that lasted minutes, startling many villagers, causing houses to shake violently and items to fall off shelves.

A man in the Warangoi sub-district, Clement Tongor, said people were staying out in the open for fear of being injured by falling objects or landslips.

"It was a very, very big earthquake. Every one of us had to run out of our houses, because it continued for some minutes. But everyone has stick to one place (in the open) because we don't want to move out, because we find we might get into some problems with landscapes and all this.

"So we are just waiting... because we are having small ones coming up."

Mr Togor said this morning's quake felt much bigger than Monday's 6.3 quake and subsequent aftershocks.

Meanwhile, the local MP, Elias Kapavore said from PNG's capital Port Moresby that he was contacting people in his district to try and establish the extent of damage or injury to people.

It was still too early to tell whether major damage had been sustained by infrastructure, the Pomio MP said.

Talking to RNZ Pacific on a mobile phone from Bago village in Pomio's Central Inland Local Level Government area, Alois Gonggi said the quake was felt strongly, although no great damage was done. He said local people were accustomed to quakes.

"Frequently we have these earthquakes, so they're used to it. Almost every month we have earthquakes. So one on Monday, and then a couple of small ones. This morning there were two strong ones and a couple of aftershocks."

But speaking from Kokopo, 150 kilometres from the epicentre, Gabriel Kote said people were sensitive to the ongoing threat of quakes around the country, especially in the wake of last month's major 7.5 quake in the Higthlands which killed at least 125 people.

"With the stories coming through the Post Courier (daily newspaper) and the communications network, people are sensing that the quake might come in heavily or... as I'm now speaking the quake is now happening... so people are thinking about the quake's effects and what might happen."

Otto Salmang had just left East New Britain on this morning's early flight to Port Moresby when the 6.9 quake struck. After arriving in the capital he said it remained difficult to assess the damage from Monday's quake.

"Because of lack of adequate communication, we were not able to get a report on what specific damages or things like that from the district. So people who we were having some meeting with in Rabaul, they just left on the boat yesterday to the district."

Peter Kaiopuna is in Kokopo, from where he has been ringing family and friends, trying to find out about the damage in his home village in Galowe on the coast of Jaquinot Bay right near the epicentre.

"It's ongoing, but there's no damage yet. We have not heard from other areas yet," Mr Kaiopuna said.

"But from where I can talk to my people, we have not encountered any damages. We just tell people to be aware and loo at areas like the rivers, if they've flooded or if they go low on their level, maybe there's a blockage up inland somewhere."

He said East New Britain's thick forest and vegetation cover could provide a natural buffer to the risk of landslides seen on such a large scale in the wake of the Highlands quake.

"But with the magnitude of the earthquake, you never know."

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