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PNG quake toll rises above 100 as PM warns of long recovery

AFP  |  Sydney 

The death toll from an earthquake that hit last month has topped 100 with thousands injured, said today, warning it will take years for the region to recover.

The Pacific nation's mountainous interior was struck by a 7.5-magnitude tremor on February 26, triggering landslides that blocked roads, caused power outages and cut off villages.

Communities have also been rattled by strong aftershocks, sparking fears among disenchanted and suspicious residents that the shaking was somehow caused by and gas operations in the area.

"Tragically, the Highlands earthquake has already claimed the lives of an estimated more than 100 Papua New Guineans, with many more still missing and thousands of people injured," O'Neill said.

The has visited the devastated region and said his government and aid agencies were focused on delivering clean water, and shelter to victims, and restoring and communications.

"There will be no quick fix, the damage from this disaster will take months and years to be repaired," he said.

"The social damage to our communities is large, and this earthquake will be the source of sadness and sorrow for generations to come," the added, describing the plight of one woman who lost six relatives including children.

"This is a story of tragedy and loss that is repeated in village after village throughout the disaster area."

The remote region is home to the impoverished country's biggest-ever development - the USD 19 billion project operated by US

Traumatised villagers are suspicious of the plant's operators and fearful they might have been using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and destabilised the rock structure underneath, the Post-reported this week.

Hydraulic involves pumping large quantities of water and at high pressure deep into the Earth to fracture rock to stimulate the flow of or

"I don't want the project to resume its operation until the company is cleared of suspicion of any responsibility," province's told the newspaper.

O'Neill said while there was no evidence that in the and provinces had anything to do with the quake, he had asked the to conduct an independent review.

He told the Post-that he went to the capital of Tari on Wednesday and "they wanted an independent review and report on what is happening".

had no immediate comment.

said Monday it expected its project to be offline for up to eight weeks to repair the quake-hit facilities.

PNG's growth is heavily dependent on its natural resources, and O'Neill has said the shutdown of the plant would have a "huge impact on the economy".

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, March 09 2018. 10:10 IST