Papua New Guinea earthquake kills 16 amid 'catastrophic havoc'

A powerful earthquake has killed at least 16 people in the impoverished Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea.

The magnitude 7.5 earthquake, which hit on Monday, severed communications and blocked roads in the central region, meaning news of the death toll has only just emerged.

Southern Highlands Governor William Powi said the quake also brought work to a halt at four oil and gas fields in a remote region.

The National Disaster Centre has declined to give numbers as it assesses the damage.

Landslides: An area of the island affected by the earthquake (REUTERS)

Secretary general of the PNG Red Cross Uvenama Rova said 11 people were killed in the southern highlands region, while another five died in Hela province.

Southern Highlands Governor William Powi warned the death toll may rise. “We are looking at massive, catastrophic havoc and destruction,” he said.

The official said three oil fields and a liquefied natural gas plant run by ExxonMobil Papua New Guinea have halted operations for now as they assess the damage to their operations.

The quake has also disrupted work at a large gold mine and at coffee plantations in the region.

Landslides: the aftermath of the quake (AFP/Getty Images)

Mr Powi said many roads remain cut off by landslides and that supplies will need to be airlifted.

The quake hit about 55 miles southwest of Porgera, the site of a large gold mine that employs more than 2,500. Several strong aftershocks have shaken the region as well.

The quake also caused panic and damaged buildings across the border in eastern Indonesia.

Papua New Guinea is home to 7 million people on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, to the east of Indonesia.

It sits on the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire,” the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic activity occur.

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