Half a million people affected by the disaster as aftershocks claim more lives and aid groups struggle to reach worst-hit areas
Scott Waide in Hela province, Papua New Guinea, and Eleanor Ainge Roy
Aid workers and government officials have been threatened by people in Papua New Guinea who are angry at the slow delivery of emergency help 10 days after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the highlands.
Care Australia estimate half a million people have been affected by the quake, with 150,000 in desperate need of emergency supplies and more than 100 believed to be dead.
Anna Bryan, Care’s program director in the country, said frustration has grown in the worst hit areas as aftershocks continued to strike.
On Wednesday, a 6.8 magnitude aftershock killed a family of six when their house collapsed and burst into flames.
Homes rebuilt since the quake on 26 February have been wrecked again by aftershocks and the continued tremors have made villagers too scared to collect food from the bush, or try and rebuild their crops and food gardens, many of which had been wiped out.
“We are hearing reports that some locals believe the earthquake was caused by sorcery, and a lot of people have also been blaming the mines in the region,” said Bryan.
“People are getting frustrated and angrier, and I do think we’ll see an increase in threats towards aid workers and government support workers as well.”
Hungry, injured people were walking in from devastated highland villages to access the limited aid available in Tari in Hela province and many remained traumatised by the disaster.
Anger was also growing towards the government regarding the lack of information and slow delivery of aid. Many survivors in Tari said the world didn’t care about their plight.
The New Zealand government dispatched a second Hercules aircraft on Thursday, loaded with relief supplies, while the Australian government has donated an additional AU$1.2m, three Chinook helicopters and defence and logistics personnel to help coordinate the relief effort, following a request from the PNG government.
A state of emergency remains in the provinces of Hela, Southern Highlands, Western and Enga, though relief efforts appear to be targeted at the worst-hit regions of Hela and Southern Highlands.
Ando Tangiato, a villager in Timu in Hela province, said many people remained buried under massive landslips that had wiped out entire villages, and locals – equipped with no more than machetes, spades and their bare hands – had little hope of saving them, or retrieving their bodies.
“We planted flowers on the places where we dug,” said a young man who had been digging, sometimes by hand, since the landslip happened. “This is now a grave site. We can’t find them.”
Anna Bryan said the sparsely populated nature of the highlands region meant the death toll was not headline-grabbing, but the magnitude of destruction was “huge” and “desperate”.
At Huiya village, near the epicentre of the quake, more than 2,000 frightened people have gathered waiting for help. They have no food or water, and some have walked from villages that have ceased to exist.