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Magnitude 7.5 quake hits off Papua New Guinea, teams assess damage

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SYDNEY/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Disaster officials dispatched local relief teams in Papua New Guinea’s New Britain province on Wednesday to monitor remote communities for casualties or damage after a strong, shallow earthquake rattled the island the previous evening.

The magnitude 7.5 quake triggered an initial tsunami warning, though local officials said no waves were observed, nor any casualties reported yet but that they were seeking information on residents outside urban areas.

Don Tokunai, Papua New Guinea’s Disaster Management Office co-ordinator in the island’s main city of Rabaul, said there was “no information as of yet” of any injuries or deaths.

“We are conducting the assessment starting this morning,” he told Reuters by telephone. “We have asked all the district response teams to come back to us by 2 o’clock this afternoon (0400 GMT).”

The offshore quake hit around 50 km (30 miles) east of Rabaul at a depth of around 10 km (6 miles) just before 11 p.m. (1300 GMT), the United States Geological Survey said.

“It was very strong and shook the whole place up,” police Sergeant Frank Kilaur said by telephone from the police station.

“At the moment we haven’t had any reports of damage … We are OK here.”

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said hazardous tsunami waves were possible within 1,000 km (621 miles) of the quake’s epicentre along the coasts of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, before later saying the threat had passed.

Tokunai said shortly after the tremor that villagers on islands closer to the epicentre and on the west coast of New Ireland reported the ocean receding, but no damaging waves or casualties.

“They said they just woke up and felt the shake, but that they are still OK there,” he said.

Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, sits on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire and is still rebuilding from a 7.5 quake that hit some 900 km (560 miles) to the west in February 2018 that killed at least 100 people.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Charlotte Greenfield in WELLINGTON; Editing by John Stonestreet, Gareth Jones, Alison Williams and Sandra Maler)

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