PAPUA NEW GUINEA EARTHQUAKE SPARKS TSUNAMI PANIC

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 7, 1999 - Radio Australia)---An earthquake in northern Papua New Guinea sparked a tsunami panic last night.

Radio Australia correspondent Richard Dinnen reports, however, that authorities say there is no risk of a tidal wave from the latest PNG trembler.

"The quake measured 6.4 on the Richter scale, and hit the Huon Peninsula on the northern side of the PNG mainland. There are no reports of injury or damage.

"Residents of the coastal city of Lae fled their homes when the quake hit, fearing the quake could have generated a tsunami.

"Last year's Aitape disaster has made people strongly aware of the tsunami risk -- and last night's quake was the second in less than 24 hours.

"A magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit New Britain island, northeast of Lae on Monday night.

"It has been a seismically active few days in the Pacific, with smaller quakes registered close to Fiji and Vanuatu earlier this month.

"Richard Dinnen, Port Moresby."

NORTHERN PAPAUA NEW GUINEA JOLTED AGAIN

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 7, 1999 - The National)---More minor tremors shook the northern part of the country last night in the aftermath of a major earthquake measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale which hit the island of New Britain less than 24 hours earlier.

The city of Lae reported four tremors at 15 minute intervals between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The Tsunami Warning Center in Hawai‘i said yesterday that Monday night's quake might cause minor sea level changes but there would be no tsunami in the next 24 hours.

The Hong Kong Observatory had initially reported that the quake measuring 7.4 had struck at 1216 GMT (10:16 p.m. PNG time).

Prime Minister Bill Skate last night expressed relief that information reaching him so far indicated that there was no destructive Pacific-wide tsunami threat.

However, he said he had been told that some areas may experience marginal sea-level changes.

"At this point, the information I have received indicates the quake has not caused any tsunami or sea activity that could pose a threat to our coast," Mr. Skate said in a statement.

National Disaster and Emergency Services Director General Ludwik Kembu said the Pacific Tsunami Center had warned of rough seas.

Mr. Kembu warned coastal villagers to take the warning seriously and not go out to the sea until further notice.

He said NDES had instructed the local authorities to issue immediate warnings to villages along the coast in the New Guinea Islands and Momase regions.

"People must withdraw to higher grounds if they see that the sea is withdrawing, hear unusual noises or experience earthquakes," he warned.

Chief seismologist Dr. Horst Letz said the quake, which was felt in several parts of the country including the National Capital District, was centered in the Whiteman Range in West New Britain province, 30 kilometers (18 miles) below the earth's surface.

West New Britain Governor Bernard Vogae went on local radio yesterday urging his people not to panic but to monitor the situation closely and stay tuned for latest developments.

Prime Minister Skate last night called on Papua New Guineans to be aware of the seismic threat posed to PNG due to the country's geographic position.

"Because Papua New Guinea is on the tectonic plate located right on the Pacific Rim of Fire, we have to be vigilant at all times for earthquakes and tsunamis. The collision zone between the Pacific Plate, the Indo-Australia Plate and the South Bismarck Plate makes Papua New Guinea a risk-zone for these disasters," he said.

Mr. Skate said the experience of the Aitape tidal wave disaster last July has reminded Papua New Guineans to be aware of the threat seismic activity poses.

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