Strong aftershocks have rocked Papua New Guinea's remote and rugged highlands, as the death toll climbed to 55 from a 7.5-magnitude earthquake a week ago, and is expected to rise further.
Three aftershocks of magnitude greater than 5.0 shook the mountainous Southern Highlands, about 600km northwest of the capital Port Moresby early on Monday (local time), the US Geological Survey said, including a shallow magnitude 6.0 quake.
"We haven't slept. It's been shaking all through the night," William Bando, provincial administrator of Hela Province, said by telephone from Tari, about 40km from the site of the shocks.
"What we experienced this morning could have caused more damage, but we don't know ... it almost threw me out of bed."
The region had already been badly damaged on February 26, when the largest quake to hit the seismically-active highlands in nearly a century flattened buildings, triggered landslides, and closed oil and gas operations.
The toll on Monday stood at 55 killed, said James Justin, a research officer at the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Port Moresby, as news of more deaths arrived in the capital by shortwave radio.
Most of the confirmed fatalities were in and around the provincial capital of Mendi and the township of Tari, he said, where landslides buried homes and buildings collapsed on families.
"People are in great fear of their lives as the quakes are continuing ever since it started," he said. "They actually want to know when it will stop."
While the region has no major urban centres, around 670,000 people live within 100km of the epicentre, according to the Red Cross.
The quake has been felt on global natural gas markets, with ExxonMobil Corp declaring force majeure on exports from Papua New Guinea, according to an industry source, pushing Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices 5 percent higher.