PORT MORESBY, Nov 18 (Reuters) At least 17 people were reported killed and others missing after widespread flooding destroyed about 450 houses in Papua New Guinea following a week of heavy rains, police said.
Thousands of villagers were forced from their homes in eastern Oro Province by flood waters up to 3.5 metres high, which also washed away roads, bridges and food gardens, provincial disaster coordinator Copland Gewa said.
''The entire province is involved. People have moved to higher grounds,'' Gewa said by telephone from Goro's capital Popondetta, adding that up 70,000 people had been affected.
''There's some information coming in that mothers and their babies and old men and women were washed away in the floods,'' Provincial Police Commander Buafe Hugo told Australian Associated Press.
''Houses were washed away and we don't know if there were people in them or not,'' he added.
Police were flying by helicopter to affected districts on Sunday, and Buafe said he feared the death toll could rise.
The flooding followed days of heavy rains caused by tropical cyclone Guba, which has moved slowly across the Coral Sea and is currently sitting off northern Australia.
The rains had now subsided and a defence force aircraft would fly to the Popondetta, about 150 km north-east of the capital Port Moresby, tomorrow carrying relief supplies and government officials who would survey the damage, an official from the National Disaster Centre said.
''The population has been cut off, the water supply has been cut off but communication appears to be okay. We've have been unable to go out because of the weather,'' the official said.
Police said displaced villagers in Oro were running out of food and trying to get to care centres being set up by authorities.
John Hosea, of Red Cross Papua New Guinea, told AAP the agency would send tarpaulins and water containers to Oro on Monday on a military aircraft.
REUTERS SZ RK1650