Papua New Guinea sends army to help in volcano crisis

Papua New Guinea's Mount Ulawun volcano spewing ash into the air. Thousands fled when the volcano erupted on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Papua New Guinea's Mount Ulawun volcano spewing ash into the air. Thousands fled when the volcano erupted on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KOKOPO (Papua New Guinea) • Troops have been sent to help thousands of people displaced by a volcanic eruption on a remote archipelago in Papua New Guinea, the Prime Minister said yesterday, as a second volcano erupted.

Lava and ash flows from Mount Ulawun - one of the world's most hazardous volcanoes - have subsided, but between 7,000 and 13,000 people are believed to have been displaced and a state of emergency has been declared.

"We will mobilise the military to go in and assess the situation, and we will dispatch the military to assist on the ground," said Prime Minister James Marape.

"The governor is already on the ground assessing the situation, and once I receive the report, we will see how we can best assist."

Local Member of Parliament Joseph Lelang said that as many as 13,000 people may have been displaced, and 1,000 have lost their homes. Mr Leo Porikura, an official with the West New Britain Disaster Office, put the number of displaced at around 7,000.

"Our focus now is providing relief supplies to the people affected by the volcanic eruption," he said.

Rabaul Volcano Observatory surveyor Steven Saunders confirmed that there was a small one-off explosion from Ulawun in the early hours, but it was not sustained and activity has eased.

The emergency response was hampered by the closure of the region's main airport, which Mr Saunders said was covered by around 3cm of ash.

As the authorities struggled to cope with the disruption, volcanologists reported the nearby island volcano of Manam had begun to erupt.

Australia's Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said satellite images hinted at an ongoing eruption.

Manam is one of Papua New Guinea's most active volcanoes and last erupted in January.

It is a volcanic cone that towers out of the sea north of Papua New Guinea's mainland and has a history of eruptions, with significant activity in November 2004 forcing the evacuation of some 9,000 people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2019, with the headline 'Papua New Guinea sends army to help in volcano crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe