‘Ballistic blocks’ shoot from Hawaii volcano, may mark start of violent eruptions

People watch as ash erupt from the Halemaumau crater near the community of Volcano during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

VOLCANO, Hawaii (Reuters) – “Ballistic blocks” the size of microwave ovens shot from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano on Wednesday in what may be the start of explosive eruptions that could spew huge ash plumes and hurl smaller rocks for miles (km), the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Such eruptions, last seen nearly a century ago, have been a looming threat since Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupted nearly two weeks ago.

Explosions in Kilauea’s crater sparked an aviation red alert due to risks the ash plume could blow into aircraft routes and damage jet engines.

More explosions are expected and may be more powerful, the USGS warned. These steam-driven blasts could send a 20,000-foot (6,100-meter) ash plume out of the crater, hurling 10-12 ton boulders up to half a mile (800 meters) and scatter pebble-sized rocks over 12 miles (19 km), the USGS has said.

This type of eruption has the potential to carpet the Big Island in much thicker ash than current dustings and possibly spread the powder and volcanic smog across the Hawaiian islands and farther afield if it enters the stratosphere.

“This morning dense ballistic blocks up to 60 cm (2 feet) across were found in the parking lot a few hundred yards (meters) from Halemaumau (Kilauea’s crater),” the USGS said in a statement. “These reflect the most energetic explosions yet observed and could reflect the onset of steam-driven explosive activity.

A 4.2 magnitude earthquake at the volcano at 8.36 a.m. (2:36 p.m. EDT) prompted authorities to issue an alert reassuring rattled Big Island residents that there was no risk of a tsunami from the volcanic activity.

‘DISARRAY AND FRANTIC’

In the community of Volcano, just north of Kilauea’s crater, business was way down and people were on edge.

In just a few hours residents had been shaken by an earthquake, dusted with ash and for the first time since the start of the eruption smelled the rotten-egg stench of toxic sulfur-dioxide gas.

“They’re just in disarray and frantic,” Adele Tripp, an employee at the Kilauea General Store, said of other residents. She said she had lived in Volcano for 30 years and was not personally concerned as she trusted scientists to tell her when to get out.

Smog from Kilauea drifted north up the island chain as the districts of Kau, Puna, and North and South Hilo were told by the National Weather Service to expect ashfall. Hawaii County Civil Defense said a dusting of ash was visible on property and advised residents to avoid exposure to the powdered rock, which can cause irritation to eyes and airways.

There was no effect on air carrier operations to Hawaii on Wednesday, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said in an email.

Ash is a new hazard for Hawaii’s Big Island, already grappling with volcanic gas and lava that has destroyed 37 homes and other structures and forced the evacuation of about 2,000 residents from a small area in the southeast Puna district.

Lava has burst from 21 giant ground cracks or fissures and torn through housing developments and farmland, threatening two highways that are exit routes for coastal areas.

Several fissures shot lava into the air on Wednesday but one flow advanced only 100 yards (meters) toward coastal Highway 137, which remains around a mile (1.6 km) distant, County of Hawaii Civil Defense said in a statement.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported from the eruption.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting and writing by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Tom Brown and Sandra Maler)

Hawaiians brave volcanic gases, lava to retrieve pets, belongings

Kilauea volcano's summit lava lake shows a significant drop of roughly 220 metres below the crater rim in this wide angle camera view showing the entire north portion of the Overlook crater in Hawaii, U.S. May 6, 2018. Picture taken on May 6, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Lava spewing in fountains up to 300 feet high from an erupting Hawaiian volcano has destroyed 35 homes and other buildings, officials said on Monday, warning residents allowed brief visits to their properties to be prepared to flee at a moment’s notice.

Lava advances towards a metal barrier in Puna, Hawaii, U.S., May 6, 2018 in this still image obtained from social media video. WXCHASING via REUTERS

Lava advances towards a metal barrier in Puna, Hawaii, U.S., May 6, 2018 in this still image obtained from social media video. WXCHASING via REUTERS

Many of the 1,700 people under orders to evacuate from the Leilani Estates neighborhood on the eastern side of the Big Island were permitted to return home during daylight hours on Sunday and Monday, during a lull in seismic activity from Kilauea.

“Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice,” the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said in an alert on its website. Residents of a second area, Lanipuna Gardens, were barred from returning home on Monday due to deadly volcanic gases.

Leilani Estates, some 12 miles from the volcano, was evacuated due to the risk of sulfur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.

“Please, the residents of Leilani need our help. This is not the time for sightseeing. You can help tremendously by staying out of the area,” the agency said.

Kilauea, which began exploding on Thursday with fountains and rivers of lava flowing into neighborhoods, has opened 10 volcanic vents since then, officials said. Lava was not flowing from any of the vents on Monday.

So far, no deaths or major injuries have been reported, but the civil defense agency said at least 35 structures had been destroyed, many of them homes.

Residents of the Leilani Estates subdivision pass a checkpoint while driving to their homes to pick up belongings after being evacuated due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Residents of the Leilani Estates subdivision pass a checkpoint while driving to their homes to pick up belongings after being evacuated due to eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano on Monday in Pahoa, Hawaii, U.S., May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The southeast corner of the island was rocked by a powerful magnitude 6.9 earthquake on the volcano’s south flank on Friday, the strongest tremor since 1975, and more earthquakes and eruptions have been forecast, perhaps for months to come.

Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes and one of five on the island, has been in constant eruption for 35 years. It predominantly blows off basaltic lava in effusive eruptions that flow into the ocean but occasionally experiences more explosive events.

“It’s been a bit of a chaotic week, a very stressful situation. It’s one of those hopeless, helpless outlooks. It’s hard to explain but the lava is right behind my house and it’s pretty surreal,” Leilani Estates homeowner Jared McManus told Reuters.

The Hawaii Star-Advertiser newspaper reported that a Hawaii-based utility, Puna Geothermal Venture, had 60,000 gallons (227,124 liters) of flammable pentane gas stored in the area that could not be removed until containers were delivered.

Some area residents returned for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday and Monday. Jeremy Wilson found his home surrounded by fissures hundreds of feet long.

“My house is right in the middle,” said Wilson, a 36-year-old social worker who turned back when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road.

The semi-rural wooded area had become a magnet for newcomers to the Big Island of Hawaii, home to about 200,000 people, who were prepared to risk living near an active volcano for more affordable real estate.

Jessica Gauthier, 47, said she and other local real estate agents had seen vacation renters cancel their reservations, though the volcanic activity is far from tourist centers.

“There’s no way to know that if you’re sitting in your living room in Ohio and watching the national news,” she said.

Hawaii’s 4,028-square-mile Big Island accounts for less than a fifth of the state’s tourism. State data show that in the first three months of 2018, 16 percent of the $4.81 billion visitors spent in Hawaii came from the Big Island, less than half of the levels seen in Oahu and Maui.

Gauthier predicted tourism would pick back up as a new kind of visitor began to appear.

“Within a month we’ll start getting lava tourists,” she said.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Writing by Andrew Hay and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)

‘Go now’, Hawaii residents warned as eruptions spread

Lava advances along a street near a fissure in Leilani Estates, on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone, Hawaii, the U.S., May 5, 2018. U.S. Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Emergency authorities battling lava flows and gas erupting from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano told some residents to “Go now” as a new fissure opened and more structures were destroyed.

Kilauea has destroyed 26 homes and forced 1,700 people to leave their residences since it erupted on Thursday, spewing lava and toxic gas from volcanic vents in a small area of Hawaii’s Big Island.

A new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii, U.S., May 5, 2018. US Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

A new fissure spraying lava fountains as high as about 230 feet (70 m), according to United States Geological Survey, is shown from Luana Street in Leilani Estates subdivision on Kilauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii, U.S., May 5, 2018. US Geological Survey/Handout via REUTERS

A new fissure opened on Sunday night in the Leilani Estates area some 12 miles from the volcano, prompting a cellphone alert for residents to leave homes to avoid sulfur dioxide gas, which can be life threatening at high levels.So far no fatalities or major injuries have been reported from the volcano, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

Evacuees from Leilani Estates were allowed to return for pets, medications and to check property on Sunday, but some like Jeremy Wilson found homes surrounded by fissures that can be hundreds of feet long.

“My house is right in the middle,” said Wilson, who turned back in his car when he saw steam coming from cracks in the road ahead.

The semi-rural wooded area of Leilani Estates had become a magnet for newcomers to Hawaii’s Big Island who were prepared to risk living near to an active volcano in return for more affordable real-estate prices.

Eruptions of lava and gas were expected to continue, along with aftershocks from Friday’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake, the largest in the area since 1975, according to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. A lava flow advanced 0.6 of a mile from one of the vents.

Lava emerges from the ground after Kilauea Volcano erupted, on Hawaii's Big Island May 3, 2018, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jeremiah Osuna/via REUTERS

Lava emerges from the ground after Kilauea Volcano erupted, on Hawaii’s Big Island May 3, 2018, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jeremiah Osuna/via REUTERS

Geologists said the activity looked like an event in 1955 when eruptions continued for 88 days in the area and covered around 4,000 acres with lava.

Jessica Gauthier, 47, said she and other local realtors had seen vacation renters cancel their reservations, even though the volcanic activity is confined to a relatively isolated area far from tourist centers.

“There’s no way to know that if you’re sitting in your living room in Ohio and watching the national news,” she said.

Gauthier predicted business would pick up as a new kind of visitor began to appear.

 

County workers deliver cots and blankets to an evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

County workers deliver cots and blankets to an evacuation center in Pahoa available to residents of the Puna communities of Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens who were forced to leave their homes after the Kilauea Volcano erupted on Thursday in Hawaii, U.S., May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“Within a month we’ll start getting lava tourists,” she said of people who come to Hawaii to see its active volcanoes.

Hawaii County authorities requested lava watchers keep away.

“This is not the time for sightseeing. You can help tremendously by staying out of the area,” the civil defense agency said in a statement.

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Writing by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Toby Chopra)

Hundreds flee homes as 4.4 magnitude quake strikes Indonesia

Rescue workers and volunteers clear an area of debris following yesterday's 4.4 magnitude quake in Kertosari Village, Banjarnegara, Central Java, Indonesia April 19, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Idhad Zakaria / via REUTERS

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A shallow earthquake brought down hundreds of poorly built buildings in Indonesia, forcing more than 2,000 people to flee their homes, rescue officials said on Thursday. The 4.4 magnitude quake hit the Banjarnegara district of Central Java late on Wednesday, killing two people and injuring more than 20.

“Victims were killed or injured by falling buildings,” the national rescue agency said in a statement. “People are being treated in hospital or have been evacuated to temporary shelters.”

Quakes are common in Indonesia, which straddles the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a hot spot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Shallow quakes shake parts of western Japan, more tremors expected

A stone torii gate damaged by an earthquake is seen at Karita Shrine in Ohda, Shimane Prefecture, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo April 9, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

TOKYO (Reuters) – A series of shallow earthquakes shook parts of western Japan on Monday and authorities warned that further strong shaking is possible over the coming days.

A quake at 1632 GMT measured at magnitude 5.8 by the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), at a depth of 10 kms (7.5 miles), causing strong shaking in parts of Shimane prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast.

Shaking of that intensity can cause walls to collapse, open cracks in the ground and trigger landslides. The United States Geological Service Survey (USGS) measured the initial quake at magnitude 5.6 at a depth of 7 kms.

A JMA official warned at a press briefing that the region could experience further jolts over the next week, particularly in the coming two or three days.

No injuries have so far been reported as a result of the earthquakes, public broadcaster NHK said.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Stephen Coates)

A month after PNG quake, cash-strapped government struggles to help the hardest-hit

FILE PHOTO - A supplied image shows locals inspecting a landslide and damage to a road located near the township of Tabubil after an earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands, February 26, 2018

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Almost a month after a deadly earthquake, Papua New Guinea is struggling to get aid to desperate survivors, having allocated just a fraction of its relief funds, while a rent dispute left disaster officials briefly locked out of their offices.

The scale of the emergency is testing the finances and capacity of one of the world’s poorest countries, disaster and relief officials say, after the magnitude 7.5 quake rocked its remote mountainous highlands on Feb. 26, killing 100 people.

Thousands of survivors have walked to remote airstrips and jungle clearings, awaiting helicopters bringing supplies of food, water and medicines, aid agencies and authorities say.

“To date, we do not have any money to do all the necessary things,” Tom Edabe, the disaster coordinator for the hardest-hit province of Hela, said by telephone from Tari, its capital.

“(The) government is trying to assist and have budgeted some money, but to date we have not received anything…we have only been given food, and non-food items supplied by other NGOs.”

Continuing aftershocks rattle residents, who have to collect water brought by daily rainstorms to ensure adequate supplies, Edabe, the disaster coordinator, said.

“The biggest thing that people need, apart from food, is water,” said James Pima, a helicopter pilot and flight manager at aviation firm HeliSolutions in the Western Highlands capital of Mt. Hagen, about 170 km (100 miles) from the disaster zone.

“They don’t have clean water to cook or drink … they are standing there staring. The expression on their faces is blank.”

His firm’s three helicopters fly relief missions “fully flat-out every day,” Pima added.

Destruction to roads and runways means authorities must rely on helicopters to fly in relief. But while nimble, the craft can only carry smaller loads than fixed-wing aircraft and cannot fly during the afternoon thunderstorms.

The logistics problems wind all the way to PNG’s disaster center, where officials told Reuters they had been locked out of their office in Port Moresby, the capital, for two days last week after the government missed a rental payment.

“That was correct, Monday and Tuesday,” a spokeswoman said.

In a joint report with the United Nations published on Friday, the agency cited “lack of quality data” about food shortages, limited aircraft assets and “significant gaps” in sanitation support as being the biggest problems it faced.

The office of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters.

On his website, O’Neill has previously said, “There will be no quick fix, the damage from this disaster will take months and years to be repaired.”

‘POLITICAL GAMES’

The government had approved relief funds amounting to 450 million kina ($130 million), O’Neill said initially, but a later statement mentioned only 3 million kina in initial relief – or less than 1 percent – had been allocated to the worst-hit areas.

In its November budget, the government made plans to rein in spending and trim debt projected to stand at 25.8 billion kina in 2018.

The impoverished country is also missing its largest revenue earner, after the quake forced a shutdown of Exxon Mobil Corp’s liquefied natural gas project, which has annual sales of $3 billion at current LNG prices. The firm is still assessing quake damage at its facilities.

O’Neill last week hit out at critics of the aid effort for playing “political games,” while thanking Australia and New Zealand for military aircraft that provided assistance beyond the capacity of PNG’s own defense forces.

His political opponent, former Prime Minister Mekere Morauta, had called the government’s response “tardy” and inadequate.

“Relief sources say mobile medical centers and operating theaters are needed urgently, and that only international partners can supply them,” Morauta said last week.

Foreign aid pledges of about $49 million have come in from Australia, China, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States, says the United Nations, most of it provided by private companies.

Exxon and its partner, Oil Search Ltd, say they have provided $6 million in cash and kind for quake relief.

Local officials say the scale of destruction, with villages buried by landslides and provincial towns flattened, has overwhelmed authorities in Papua New Guinea, which straddles the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire.

“Policemen are still struggling because there is no support flying in and out,” said Naring Bongi of the quake-damaged police station in the Southern Highlands capital of Mendi.

“There is not enough food to supply care centers, they need fresh water,” he added.

 

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Seven years after tsunami, Japanese live uneasily with seawalls

A bus is driven past a seawall in Yamada village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Megumi Lim

RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan (Reuters) – When a massive earthquake struck in 2011, Japanese oyster fisherman Atsushi Fujita was working as usual by the sea. Soon after, a huge black wave slammed into his city and killed nearly 2,000 people.

Seven years on, Fujita and thousands like him along Japan’s northeast coast have rebuilt their lives alongside huge sea walls that experts say will protect them if another giant tsunami, which some see as inevitable in a seismically active nation like Japan, was to strike.

A high wave hits a seawall in Tanohata village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

A high wave hits a seawall in Tanohata village, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The 12.5-metre (41-ft) concrete wall replaced a 4-metre breakwater that was swamped in the March 11, 2011 disaster. The earthquake and tsunami, which reached as high as 30 meters in some areas, killed nearly 18,000 people across Japan and triggered a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant.

“It feels like we’re in jail, even though we haven’t done anything bad,” the 52-year-old Fujita said.

Since the disaster, some towns have forbidden construction in flat areas nearest the coast and have relocated residents to higher land. Others, such as Rikuzentakata, have raised the level of their land by several meters before constructing new buildings.

A common thread, though, is the construction of seawalls to replace breakwaters that were overwhelmed by the tsunami. Some 395 km (245 miles) of walls have been built at a cost of 1.35 trillion yen ($12.74 billion).

“The seawalls will halt tsunamis and prevent them from inundating the land,” said Hiroyasu Kawai, researcher at the Port and Airport Research Institute in Yokosuka, near Tokyo.

“Even if the tsunami is bigger than the wall, the wall will delay flooding and guarantee more time for evacuation.”

Residential houses and commercial buildings stand behind a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Residential houses and commercial buildings stand behind a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

ADJUSTING

Many residents initially welcomed the idea of the walls but have become more critical over time. Some say they were not consulted enough in the planning stages or that money spent on the walls has meant that other rebuilding, such as housing, has fallen behind.

Others worry the walls will damage tourism.

“About 50 years ago, we came up here with the kids and enjoyed drives along the beautiful ocean and bays,” said Reiko Iijima, a tourist from central Japan, who was eating at an oyster restaurant across from the seawall.

“Now, there’s not even a trace of that.”

Part of a wall in the city of Kesennuma, further south, has windows in it – but these, too, draw complaints.

“They’re a parody,” said Yuichiro Ito, who lost his home and younger brother in the tsunami. “It’s just to keep us happy with something we never wanted in the first place.”

A fishing boat is seen through a window of a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

A fishing boat is seen through a window of a seawall at a port in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Fisherman Fujita said that while the tsunami had improved oyster farming in the area by stirring up sea floors and removing accumulated sludge, the sea walls could block natural water flows from the land and impact future production.

Many municipalities said the giant walls had to be in place before permission could be granted for reconstruction elsewhere.

“I can’t say things like ‘the wall should be lower’ or ‘we don’t need it,'” said Katsuhiro Hatakeyama, who has rebuilt his bed and breakfast business in the same location as before. “It’s thanks to the wall that I could rebuild, and now have a job.”

But many find the wall hard to adjust to.

“Everyone here has lived with the sea, through generations,” said Sotaro Usui, head of a tuna supply company. “The wall keeps us apart – and that’s unbearable.”

(Additional reporting by Kim Kyung-hoon, Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Karishma Singh and Neil Fullick)

Papua New Guinea aid workers race to deliver supplies as aftershocks strike

People displaced by an earthquake gather at a relief centre in the central highlands of Papua New Guinea March 1, 2018. Milton Kwaipo/Caritas Australia/Handout via REUTERS

By Sonali Paul and Charlotte Greenfield

MELBOURNE/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Aid workers struggled to reach remote areas of Papua New Guinea’s rugged highlands on Tuesday as aftershocks rattled the region, more than a week after a powerful 7.5 magnitude earthquake killed dozens of people.

Two aftershocks above magnitude 5 and one of magnitude 6.7 hit the mountainous Southern Highlands, about 600 km (370 miles) northwest of the capital Port Moresby, with the constant shaking driving people from their homes to makeshift shelters for fear of landslides.

There were no immediate reports of damage from the magnitude 6.7 tremor, which struck shortly after midnight, Wednesday morning, local time.

Local media outlets on Tuesday reported the death toll had grown to 75, after government officials said previously that 55 people had been killed.

James Komengi, a United Church project officer, speaking from Tari, the capital of quake-affected Hela province, said his church’s assessment and response center had counted up to 67 deaths in that province alone.

“Mothers and children are so traumatized. Even my own children are refusing to sleep in our house. Every little movement scares them,” said Komengi.

Concerns were also growing about access to safe drinking water after the shaking destroyed many water tanks, while land slips had poured mud into natural water sources.

“Because of the landslides … it’s very dirty water,” said Udaya Regmi, Director the International Red Cross in Papua New Guinea. Provincial health officials and Red Cross volunteers were urgently trying to improve sanitation systems and carry out hygiene training to avoid an outbreak of dystentry, Regmi said.

Local hospitals had seen a number of people with stomach conditions, but it was not yet confirmed whether these were due to contaminated water, he added.

Aid agencies were struggling to get aid by helicopter to all of the nearly 150,000 people who remained in urgent need of emergency supplies.

“The logistics are still a massive problem,” said Anna Bryan, an aid worker for CARE Australia based in the capital Port Moresby.

Australia, New Zealand and the Red Cross have all pledged aid, although reaching the remote area has proved difficult as forbidding terrain and bad weather, as well as damaged roads and runways, have delayed aid efforts.

“Right now the main challenge in the affected areas is accessibility by roads. There are big cracks along the roads and even roads completely cut off. So that’s making it quite difficult to get water, food and medicine to the remote areas,” said Milton Kwaipo, Caritas Australia’s disaster response and management officer in Papua New Guinea.

The quake has also been felt on global gas markets, with ExxonMobil Corp declaring force majeure on exports from Papua New Guinea, according to an industry source, pushing up Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure, but said it would take about 8 weeks to restore production.

 

(Reporting by Sonali Paul in MELBOURNE, Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON and Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; editing by Richard Pullin and Kevin Liffey)

Magnitude 6.0 aftershock rattles quake-hit PNG highlands as toll rises

A local stands next to a damaged house near a landslide in the town of Tari after an earthquake struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands in this image taken February 27, 2018 obtained from social media. Francis Ambrose/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Strong aftershocks rocked Papua New Guinea’s remote and rugged highlands on Monday, as the death toll climbed to 55 from a 7.5-magnitude earthquake a week ago, and is expected to rise further.

Three aftershocks of magnitude greater than 5 shook the mountainous Southern Highlands, about 600 km (370 miles) northwest of the capital Port Moresby early on Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey said, including a shallow magnitude 6 quake.

“We haven’t slept. It’s been shaking all through the night,” William Bando, provincial administrator of Hela Province, said by telephone from Tari, about 40 km (25 miles) from the site of the shocks.

“What we experienced this morning could have caused more damage, but we don’t know … it almost threw me out of bed.”

The region had already been badly damaged on Feb. 26, when the largest quake to hit the seismically-active highlands in nearly a century flattened buildings, triggered landslides, and closed oil and gas operations.

The toll on Monday stood at 55 killed, said James Justin, a research officer at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Port Moresby, as news of more deaths arrived in the capital by shortwave radio.

Most of the confirmed fatalities were in and around the provincial capital of Mendi and the township of Tari, he said, where landslides buried homes and buildings collapsed on families.

“People are in great fear of their lives as the quakes are continuing ever since it started,” he said. “They actually want to know when it will stop.”

While the region has no major urban centres, around 670,000 people live within 100 km (62 miles) of the epicentre, according to the Red Cross.

The quake has been felt on global natural gas markets, with ExxonMobil Corp declaring force majeure on exports from Papua New Guinea, according to an industry source, pushing Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices 5 percent higher.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure, but said production would be knocked out for about 8 weeks.

Aid agencies have said nearly 150,000 people remain in urgent need of emergency supplies.

Australia, New Zealand and the Red Cross have all pledged aid, though reaching the remote area has proven challenging as forbidding terrain, bad weather, as well as damaged roads and runways have delayed aid efforts.

“The only way for people to go out is by chopper, and it’s slow for information to come through”, said Martin Mose, director of Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Centre, which has yet to complete a full assessment of damage.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Clarence Fernandez)

PNG declares state of emergency after deadly quake strikes rugged highlands

A local stands next to a damaged house near a landslide in the town of Tari after an earthquake struck Papua New Guinea's Southern Highlands in this image taken February 27, 2018 obtained from social media. Francis Ambrose/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT?

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Papua New Guinea has declared a state of emergency across its remote and rugged highlands, releasing government relief funds four days after a deadly quake flattened provincial towns and buried hamlets under landslides, killing at least 31 people.

Stymied by forbidding terrain and weather, as well as damaged roads and runways, aid has not yet arrived in several large towns where it’s most needed, local officials told Reuters.

“The only means of rescue is through helicopters and they are hardly coming,” Hela province’s administrator, William Bando, said on the phone from his office in a shipping container at Tari, about 40 km (25 miles) from the epicenter.

“Our people live in scattered hamlets and people are dying slowly…A lot of people are asking for tents, water and medical supplies.”

The emergency declaration, made late on Thursday by Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill cleared the way for 450 million kina ($135 million) in government aid to flow, as well as help from the military.

“This is an unprecedented disaster and the appropriate response is underway by the national government,” O’Neill said in a statement, which also announced a restoration authority would direct recovery efforts for the next four years.

At least 13 people died when landslides covered remote hamlets close to where the quake struck, some 560 km (350 miles) northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, an official who put the total death toll at 31, told Reuters on Thursday.

While the region has no major urban centers, around 670,000 people live within 100 km (62 miles) of the epicenter according to the Red Cross.

Most of the other confirmed fatalities were in or around Tari township and provincial capital of Mendi, where at least 14 people died and aftershocks continue to frighten residents.

“People have started to dig out and to recover dead bodies still in the ground,” Mendi policeman Naring Bongi said from his station, where desktop computers were smashed when the quake hit.

“There is no help except for those who are here going around and collecting information on casualties and such things,” he said.

“Our state of mind is not great. We are confused as to what is to be done to us in this case…the earth is still moving – it really frightens us, so we don’t know whatever to do, all the services in Mendi have closed.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it released $221,000 in funds to help relief efforts and would send first aid, water, mosquito nets and shelters, to the region.

Australia has also promised A$200,000 in aid, sent a C-130 military plane to help with aerial surveys, and a spokeswoman at the foreign ministry told Reuters more help was on standby, should PNG request it.

Miners and oil and gas companies were also assessing damage to their infrastructure, and an industry source said ExxonMobil Corp has declared force majeure on exports from its Papua New Guinea liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, which has been shut since the quake hit.

The company declined to comment on the declaration, but said it would “take time” for a full survey of damage, given the quake ruined roads and other infrastructure.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook, Editing by G Crosse and Michael Perry)