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Monday, 9 September, 2002, 08:51 GMT 09:51 UK
Huge quake hits Papua New Guinea
Earlier tsunami in PNG which devastated coastal regions
The islands' coastline is vulnerable to giant waves
A major earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale has hit the coastal waters north of Papua New Guinea.

Initial unconfirmed reports said at least four people were killed and some coastal houses were destroyed.

About 20,000 in the provincial capital Wewak have been left without water.

A tremor of a similar size in 1998 caused a tsunami, or wave surge, which hit the shore killing over 2,000 people.

But this quake sparked a smaller tidal wave, which washed 10-15 metres (30-50 feet) inland, and knocked some coastal houses off their stilts, according to officials in Wewak.

At least two of those who died - a mother and her child - were reported by a Catholic church official to have drowned in the tsunami.

Leader unscathed

Prime Minister Michael Somare was at home in Wewak at the time but was not harmed, according to a local official.

The earthquake took place at 0444 local time (1844 GMT Sunday), with an epicentre 95km (60 miles) northwest of Wewak.

At least two smaller islands off Wewak's north-west coast, Walis and Tarawi, were also affected.

A spokesman for the Australian Geological Survey Organisation, Mark Leonard, said the earthquake took place in an area of fairly shallow waters.

It was also reported to be centred about 50km (30 miles) deep, which would reduce its impact on the surrounding sea and land.

Tsunami threat played down

It often takes several days to comprehend the full extent of casualties and damage following a disaster in the impoverished South Pacific nation.

A man from the Papua New Guinea village of Sissano looks over the damage from atop a pile of debris, July 1998.
The country's coastal towns were devastated by a tsunami in 1998

But Mr Leonard pointed out that the damage and deaths caused by the 1998 earthquake had been due to the tsunami and not directly caused by the tremor itself.

This time "there was a little tsunami recorded of about one meter and the lagoon that was destroyed a few years ago actually drained and filled again but there was no destructive tsunami".

Papua New Guinea lies along a major tectonic fault line around the Pacific rim known as the "Ring of Fire".

The earthquake follows a series of natural disasters to hit Mr Somare's cash-strapped government since he came to office last month.

Last month several thousand people fled their homes due to a volcano eruption on New Britain Island, and last week officials warned that a drought is threatening the nation.

See also:

05 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
16 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
13 Sep 98 | Asia-Pacific
22 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
20 Jul 98 | Asia-Pacific
05 Jun 00 | Science/Nature
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