At least four people are dead after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake rocked Papua New Guinea in the southwestern Pacific on Sunday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and Reuters.
The quake happened around 9:46 a.m. Sunday. Its epicenter was about 41 miles east of Kainantu, in the Papua New Guinea highlands, according to the USGS.
One person died in a landslide in the Rai Coast District in the southeastern province of Madang, and three others were buried by a landslide in the town of Wau, in the nearby province of Morobe, according to Reuters, which also reported that the regional power grid, internet cables and highway had been damaged but that the airport was operational.
Other people in the region were injured by falling structures or debris, and some health centers, homes and rural roads were also damaged, according to Reuters. But the full extent of the damage remains unclear.
Jana Pursley, a geophysicist with the USGS, said damage could be moderate to heavy, but no major population centers appeared to be in the path of the temblor’s deadliest waves.
“This could definitely be a damaging earthquake,” Pursley said.
Despite liquefaction, where water-logged land loses foundational strength, and other instability, such as possible landslides, the USGS said it was likely that a relatively limited population was exposed to the worst of the earthquake.
Renagi Ravu was meeting with two colleagues at his home in Kainantu on Sunday morning when the earthquake struck.
Ravu, who is a geologist, said he tried to calm everybody as the shaking continued for more than a minute, sending plates and cups crashing to the ground.
“It’s a common thing that earthquakes are felt here, but it usually doesn’t last as long and is not as violent as this one,” Ravu said. “It was quite intense.”
About 10,000 people live in and around his town and there are many scattered settlements in the highlands, he said.
Friends in Kainantu messaged him descriptions of cracked roads, broken pipes and fallen debris, Ravu said.
Farther east, photos of a multistory structure at the University of Goroka in the town of the same name showed it damaged, fragile and appearing to teeter.
Papua New Guinea experiences a high rate of seismic activity, according to the USGS, which has noted 78 earthquakes of magnitude 6 or higher in the area of the quake in the last 50 years.
The earthquake occurred as a result of normal faulting about 56 miles beneath an area of the country near the northern edge of the Australia plate, the USGS said.
The federal Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said the earthquake ultimately presented no threat of tidal waves to United States coastlines and Pacific territories.