At least four people died after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake shook Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific on Sunday morning, according to the US Geological Survey and Reuters.
The quake happened around 9:46 a.m. Sunday. Its epicenter was about 41 miles east of Kainantu in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, according to the USGS.
One person died in a landslide in Rai Coast district in southeastern Madang province, and three others were buried by a landslide in Wau town in neighboring Morobe province, according to Reuterswhich also reported that the regional power grid, internet cables and highway had been damaged but the airport was operational.
Other people in the area were injured by falling structures or debris, and some health centers, homes and rural roads were also damaged, according to Reuters. But the extent of the damage remains uncertain.
USGS geophysicist Jana Pursley said damage could be moderate to heavy, but no major population centers appeared to be in the path of the quake’s deadliest waves.
“It could definitely be a damaging earthquake,” Pursley said.
Despite liquefaction, where waterlogged land loses its fundamental strength, and other instabilities, such as possible landslides, the USGS said it’s likely a relatively small population was exposed. at the worst of the earthquake.
Renagi Ravu was meeting two colleagues at his home in Kainantu on Sunday morning when the earthquake struck.
Ravu, who is a geologist, said he tried to calm everyone down as the shaking continued for more than a minute, sending plates and cups crashing to the ground.
“It’s a common thing for earthquakes to be felt here, but it usually doesn’t last as long and isn’t as violent as this one,” Ravu said. “It was pretty intense.”
About 10,000 people live in and around his town and there are many settlements scattered across the highlands, he said.
Friends of Kainantu sent him descriptions of cracked roads, broken pipes and fallen debris, Ravu said.
Further east, photos of a multi-storey structure at Goroka University in the town of the same name showed it damaged, fragile and appearing to be shaky.
Papua New Guinea is experiencing a high rate of seismic activity, according to the USGS, which noted 78 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater in the quake area over the past 50 years.
The earthquake occurred following a normal fault about 56 miles below an area of the country near the northern edge of the Australian plate, the USGS said.
The Federal Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said the quake ultimately posed no tidal wave threat to US coastlines and Pacific territories.
Michelle Acevedo, Christian Santana, The Associated Press, Julianne McShane and Reuters contributed.