Description of the disaster
A 7.5 magnitude earthquake with a 35-kilometre depth, struck at about 4 am (Papua New Guinea- PNG time) on 26 February 2018, followed 30 minutes later by an aftershock of 5.5 magnitude, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The epicentre was in the southern highlands in a mountainous area (Mount Bosavi) which is location with a mostly rural population; no major urban centres or infrastructure were located near the epicentre. According to UNDAC reports, and based on the PNG 2011 census, a population of 37,689 persons live in the areas where the earthquake was most felt. Approximately 270,000 people experienced the intensity above 6.0 and required humanitarian assistance.
The two most affected provinces are Hela and Southern Highlands. The death toll remains unclear, but it is believed that more than 100 people died, with most of confirmed deaths caused by landslides. The affected areas have care centres where people are gathering and sleeping. The 21 May 2018 UNDAC1 report mentioned 8,360 displaced people remain in 11 centres.
The majority of communication and road accessibility has returned to pre-earthquake status after being cut off for several weeks. As some of the affected areas can only be reached by air or walking in normal times, these have yet to be reached or only been assessed or partially reached by air surveys. The most remote locations can only be accessed by walking trails and in non-emergency periods lack radio or mobile networks.
As violent clashes in some of these communities are frequent, the restriction of movement has delayed, or prevented, aid from reaching certain locations. During this operation, several security incidents have occurred, which included the armed robbery of Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society (PNGRCS) volunteers and a regional disaster response team (RDRT) member. For this reason, humanitarian organizations temporarily have suspended operations in Hela province.