Dozens killed in Papua New Guinea earthquake
Dozens of people are believed to have been killed in the 7.5-magnitude earthquake that hit Papua New Guinea's central highlands region early Monday, local media reported on Tuesday.
The quake hit the provinces of Southern Highlands and Hela, a heavily forested region about 560 km northwest of the capital, Port Moresby, at around 3:45am local time (1545 GMT), according to the US Geological Survey.
"Although communication network into the two provinces have been cut off, reports through satellite communication by Hela Provincial Administrator William Bando said there had been unconfirmed reports of more than 30 deaths," the PNG's Post Courier newspaper reported.
More than 300 people were reportedly injured, most of whom are local villagers.
The death toll from the quake could be as high as 20, Acting Director of the Department of Mineral Policy and Geo-hazards Management Chris McKee was quoted as saying by local newspaper The National.
Prime Minister Peter O'Neil said: "I have ordered the chief of the Defense Force to initiate an immediate response to the earthquake."
"There are communities that have suffered from this natural disaster, and we are sending our soldiers and other government agencies to support our people in their time of need," the prime minister said in a statement.
The energy-rich region is home to oil and gas production. Energy giant ExxonMobil Corp has shut its liquefied natural gas plant in the wake of the powerful earthquake.
Papua New Guinea is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, to the east of Indonesia. Earthquakes are common in the country, which sits on the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean.