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Papua New Guinea volcano spews ash, triggering eruption alert

  • News Desk

    Agence France-Presse

Kokopo, Papua New Guinea   /   Wed, June 26, 2019   /   02:22 pm
Papua New Guinea volcano spews ash, triggering eruption alert This NASA Observatory International Space Station astronaut photograph obtained December 11, 2012, was taken during the most recent phase of volcanic activity at Ulawun acquired on November 30, 2012. A plume of white steam and ash extends from the summit crater of the stratovolcano towards the northwest. The plume begins to broaden as it passes the southwestern coast of Lolobau Island, approximately 23 kilometers downwind. Note that the image is oriented such that north is towards the lower left. Ulawun is also known as “the Father,” with the Bamus volcano to the southwest also known as “the South Son.” The summit of Bamus is obscured by white cumulus clouds (not of volcanic origin) in this image. While Ulawun has been active since at least 1700, the most recent activity at Bamus occurred in the late 19th century. A large region of ocean surface highlighted by sunglint—sunlight reflecting off the water surface—is visible to the north-northeast of Ulawun. Numerous volcanoes contribute to the landmass of the island of New Britain, the largest in the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. One of the most active of these volcanoes—Ulawun—is also the tallest, with a summit elevation of 2,334 meters (7,657 feet). (AFP/NASA)

Papua New Guinea's volatile Ulawun volcano -- designated one of the world's most hazardous -- began spewing ash Wednesday, turning the sky dark, sending residents fleeing and prompting an eruption warning.

The volcano on the remote Bismarck Archipelago chain is listed as one of 16 "Decade Volcanoes" targeted for research because they pose a significant risk of large, violent eruptions.

"The volcanic activity at Mt Ulawun began at 7:00 am this morning after slight rumbling and light emission," Leo Porikura, an official with the West New Britain Disaster Office, told AFP.

"The Rabaul Volcano Observatory has declared a stage one alert warning of a possible eruption."

Witnesses reported ash spewing out of the 2,334 metre (7,657 foot) summit, sending trails spanning high overhead. 

"The sky has turned black," said Kingsly Quou, manager of the nearby Mavo Estates palm plantation.

Quou said that villagers living at the base of the volcano had already been evacuated and he and his colleagues were gathering their belongings.

Japanese satellite imagery and sources on the ground had shown sulphur dioxide and now volcanic ash drifting from the crater.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said the ash reached more than 13 kilometres (44,000 feet) into the air.

The bureau's Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre issued a "red" warning to airlines, indicating the eruption was imminent or underway, although there is not believed to be an immediate disturbance for flight routes.

Thousands of people live in the shadow of Ulawun, despite it being one of the most active volcanoes in the country.

Porikura said people living in the vicinity of the volcano had been instructed to move away to safer areas and a disaster team had been dispatched.

"The disaster team will liaise with the local community, local businesses and local level government authorities to prepare for a possible eruption," he said.

"Three crucial priority areas being addressed include transport plan, care centre preparations and getting the communities in the high-risk areas to prepare for an evacuation," Porikura said.

The nearby Rabaul Volcano Observatory said emissions from the volcano were getting darker, indicating a higher ash content -- which can cause breathing problems, eye irritation ans skin irritation because of the high acid content.

A team of experts had visited earlier this month and reported the volcano was "quiet" adding "there is no indication of any change in its state of unrest."

The ash emissions had been proceeded by an increase in seismic activity, Porikura said.