MOUNT HAGEN PNG OUT OF FUEL

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Supply trucks can’t negotiate dangerous roadway

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 13, 2009 ) – The economy of the Highlands is bracing for tough times in the days ahead.

This is because trucking firms have pulled their vehicles off the road due to the collapse of the Highlands Highway.

Major fuel supplier, InterOil Products Limited yesterday announced that Mount Hagen has run out of all automotive, industrial and aviation fuel.

Supplies in stores in the region are running low and export commodities like coffee and tea are stranded in the region.

The company’s main fuel depot in the Highlands city supplies all fuel retail stations in Enga, Southern Highlands and Chimbu provinces.

The shortage came about after fuel deliveries into the area were suspended after a landslip forced the closure of the Highlands Highway near Mindima, several kilometres outside Kundiawa town.

InterOil general manager Peter Diezmann said in a statement yesterday the damaged section of roadway was impassable to heavy vehicles.

"Some sections of the highway have been washed away down an embankment,’’ he said.

"In other parts, deep craters have appeared. The issue is one of public and environmental safety.

"There is no way a vehicle the size and weight of a laden fuel tanker could attempt to negotiate this highly unstable section of the road.

"The effects of any accident could be extremely serious," Mr Diezmann said.

It is the fourth time in recent months the Highlands Highway has been closed to heavy traffic due to flooding and landslips.

"The situation has gone beyond critical as there is not enough fuel available to ration," Mr Diezmann said.

"The nation’s third largest city is now effectively without fuel and we do not know when fresh stocks will be brought in.

"It is only a matter of time before industry, public transport and some important public services begin to wind down," he said.

Trucking companies pulled their trucks off the highway due to the deteriorating state of the road as they also fear for the safety of their drivers and vehicles.

This was confirmed by the PNGB Road Transport Association president John Lacey two days ago.

Mr Lacey said the trucking companies, the export industry and farmers were losing millions of kina when trucks loaded with supplies destined for the Highlands sat idle in Lae and Goroka while in Mount Hagen container-loads of coffee, tea, potato, kaukau and vegetables meant for the coastal and international markets were rotting.

Mount Hagen leader Wan Wak said goods were running low in shops in Mount Hagen and the same would be happening in Wabag and Mendi.

"We are expecting some serious problems here unless the highway is fixed and the trucks are back on the road again," Mr Wak said.

Mr Diezman said: "I sympathise with our customers who rely on fuel for many facets of their private and business lives.

"However, nothing can be done until the road surface has been made safe for traffic.

"We hope authorities will act quickly to repair and replace the damaged sections of this important road link to the Highlands

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