Tsunami warning after strong quake off Papua New Guinea

PAPUA NEW GUINEA • A strong 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG) yesterday, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said, triggering warnings of hazardous tsunami waves (at press time).

The shallow quake occurred around 11pm (1300 GMT), some 44km (27 miles) northeast of Kokopo on New Britain island, the USGS said.

Shallow earthquakes tend to cause more damage on the Earth’s surface, but the USGS estimated that damage and injuries would be low because of the area’s sparse population.

“It was massive, absolutely massive. Very scary,” Megan Martin, the MD of the Ropopo Plantation resort in Kokopo, told AFP.

“There does not appear to be any damage, but we are out checking.”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre put the quake at a strength of 7.7. “Based on the preliminary earthquake parameters…hazardous tsunami waves are possible for coasts located within 1,000km of the earthquake epicentre,” the centre said.

In a follow-up alert, it added that waves from 0.3m to 1m above the tide level were possible for PNG, while waves of less than 0.3m might be expected throughout the region — including Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.

“Government agencies responsible for threatened coastal areas should take action to inform and instruct any coastal populations at risk in accordance with their own evaluation procedures and the level of threat.”

However, the centre also said there was no tsunami threat to Hawaii or Guam.

An AFP reporter in Kokopo said electricity went off in the town after the quake struck.

“We won’t know until the morning if there is serious damage, but the whole area is experiencing power blackout,” he said.

“Aftershocks are still being felt.”

PNG’s rugged highlands region was hit by a 7.5-magnitude quake in February last year that buried homes and triggered landslides, killing at least 125 people.

The scale of that disaster did not become apparent for days due to PNG’s poor communications and infrastructure.

There are regular earthquakes in the country, which sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire — a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates. — AFP