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PORT MORESBY: The death toll from a massive earthquake in Papua New Guinea rose to seven Monday and is expected to grow as rescuers begin to reach remote landslide-hit communities.

Police Commissioner David Manning said the victims of Sunday’s 7.6-magnitude quake had been found across the central north of the country, where there is widespread damage to homes and infrastructure.

The quake struck mid-morning and triggered a series of deadly landslides.

Three alluvial miners were buried alive near the settlement of Wau and four others died in locations across Morobe and Madang provinces, Manning said.

Missionary groups and private aviation firms have been trying to reach isolated communities and airlift the injured to safety.

Aerial reconnaissance by the Mission Aviation Fellowship indicated “visible slides in the Nankina area and that some are still actively slipping”, according to the UN’s Papua New Guinea Disaster Management Team.

Many people are feared to have been displaced but early on-the-ground assessments have been sketchy.

Papua New Guinea Red Cross secretary-general Valachie Quagliata said the area’s rough mountainous terrain made access difficult, with the worst affected areas not accessible by car.

According to a UN assessment, the earthquake damaged the Ramu hydropower plant “resulting in a total system outage across the Highlands provinces, Madang, and Morobe”.

“There will be major interruptions to power going forward,” Quagliata said.

An undersea cable linking the regional capital Madang to Port Moresby was also affected by the quake, as was a link between Madang and Sydney.

Five dead in ‘massive’ Papua New Guinea quake

Parts of the vital Highlands Highway, which connects several of Papua New Guinea’s main cities, have been damaged.

However, regional airports in Goroka and Lae-Nadzab remained open with no damage reported, according to the United Nations.

Prime Minister James Marape has warned Papua New Guineans to be cautious after the “massive” earthquake, but said its impact was expected to be less than a 2018 quake which killed 150 people.

The country’s national coronavirus hotline has been redirected to take calls from people affected by the earthquake.

The quake struck at a depth of 61 kilometres (38 miles), about 67 kilometres from the town of Kainantu, according to the US Geological Survey.

Papua New Guinea sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, causing it to experience frequent earthquakes.

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