East New Britain takes stock of large quake, still affected by rains

12:09 pm on 24 May 2019

Around 300 people on Papua New Guinea's Duke of York group are without homes after their houses were destroyed in last week's major earthquake.

Damage from a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on 14 May 2019 in Namatanai district, New Ireland province PNG.

Damage from a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on 14 May 2019 in Namatanai district, New Ireland province PNG. Photo: Namatanai MP Office

The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck 10 kilometres deep in St George's Channel between East New Britain and New Ireland provinces.

The chair of East New Britain's disaster committee, Wilson Matava said over 50 homes collapsed on Duke of York Island near the epicentre.

"There's quite a number of damage in terms of permanent houses for our local people," Mr Matava explained.

However, he said the Duke of York islands had suffered the worst with over fifty permanent and semi-permanent houses destroyed.

"The damage on the island has affected three hundred people in fourteen affected wards."

Wilson Matava said his office sent people to Duke of York group to distribute tarpaulins, tents and water.

He said they had given a report to the national government on the extent of damages, with cost assessments pending.

The MP for Gazelle in East New Britain said thousands of people have had homes or gardens significantly damaged by last week's major earthquake.

Jelta Wong said there were a lot of landslips and cracks in the roads from the quake.

"We probably estimate about three to four thousand people with different damages, like for some their houses went, and for some their gardens went," he said.

"So we're compiling a whole list, so that we can make sure that the relief aid goes straight to them."

Jelta Wong said the good news is that there were no deaths and very few injuries caused by the quake.

"We've had some infrastructure damage with houses and that, but as long as there's no loss of life, I'm comfortable with repairing those infrastructures, clearing the road and giving some relief to these people to start building their gardens up again."

Both Mr Wong and Mr Matava cited the resilience of East new Britain people in the face of natural disasters.

"One of the best things about East New Britain is (that) people bring it upon themselves to come and say 'ok, I'm an old engineer from here, I'm retired but I know there's problems here and there. I'm willing to help you'," said Mr Wong.

"The people continue to rebuild their lives and move on, with assistance from the government and caring communities and villages that live in the province and outside the province," Mr Matava said.

However, numerous local officials, including Governor Nakikus Konga, have expressed frustration that East New Britain is still waiting for funding requested in the wake of widespread flooding and landslides in the province caused by heavy rains in February and March.

Damage from the PNG quake

Photo: Namatanai MP Office

According to Mr Konga, the province had conducted assessments, established that $US2 million (7.8 million kina) was required for relief and rebuilding efforts, but that the national government had not directed the funds yet.

"We went in with a proper submission. Then we took it over to the national government," he said.

"I as the governor of the province had a follow-up with the prime minister. But still today we have not had any funding. It's not very helpful for us, because two months is a long time to wait."

For much of the Gazelle Peninsular, the impacts of the heavy rains, in blocking roads with debris or washing away sections of road altogether, were the main ongoing problem.

"The impact from the rain is much more than the impact from the earthquake. All the roads that are washed away... nothing much has been done, but people are asking the government to fix the roads," said Leonard Tonggo, a Kokopo-based accountant.

"We are slowly clearing most of our roads, but the roads that are washed away needs a lot of money to rebuild," Mr Matava said.

"It's still affecting traffic movement, especially on our north coast, and parts of Gazelle and Pomio, and the Kokopo/Rabaul road."

Mr Matava said the costs of the flooding damage from March were being integrated into the province's new assistance requests after the major quake.

The magnitude 7.5 quake hit near  Rabaul in Papua New Guinea's remote New Britain island.

The epicentre of the quake Photo: United States Geological Survey