120 tons of food reaches earthquake-hit areas of Papua New Guinea
"Emergency restoration efforts are being carried out because of the urgency (by the government) in bringing in food, water and medicine to the affected communities particularly in Hela and Southern Highlands," he said.
So far, more than 100 people have been confirmed dead after a 7.5-magnitude tremor struck two weeks ago outside the provincial capital of Mendi, home to around 50,000 people.
Following the quake, however, ongoing aftershocks, many measuring over 6.0-magnitude have continued to shake the surrounding areas causing deadly landslides that have cut off roadways and left huge gaping cracks in the earth.
In the township of Tari, numerous villages were buried when the slopes of Mt. Sisa collapsed.
The several hundred that managed to flee were camped at Huiya airstrip and are relying solely on air-dropped supplies. "Many communities are torn apart and displaced," O'Neill said.
"Over 100 people died but many more are missing and that number is expected to rise."
But with most of the obstacles that have blocked the highway between Mt. Hagen and Tari cleared, vehicles have now started to mobilize.
"Heavier trucks are starting to move in Tari and Hela province, meaning that we can now take in relief supplies in (shipping) containers," O'Neill said.
But the prime minister said the ongoing aftershocks are continuing to produce landslides "even after we have cleared them."
"So we have contractors permanently based in each section of the highway," he said.
"Their job is to continuously clear the highway, day and night so that traffic and movement of people and especially movement of relief supplies is our priority."
To help with the operation, the government has made 620,000 U.S. dollars available for emergency assistance and pledged at further 310,000 U.S. dollars to repair infrastructure. ■