Thousands in Papua New Guinea flee homes amid volcanic eruptions

SYDNEY • Volcanic eruptions in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have forced 15,000 villagers in the country's north-east to flee their homes, aid agencies said yesterday.

Mount Ulawun on PNG's north-eastern island of New Britain erupted suddenly last Wednesday, shooting an ash column 18km into the air, while nearby Manam exploded on Friday, sending pyroclastic flows down its slopes.

There were no reported casualties but the eruptions destroyed homes, plantations and wells, leaving villagers without food and water while ash columns disrupted domestic flights.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said that as of yesterday, 3,775 people had fled the Manam eruption and 11,047 people from the Mount Ulawun eruption and taken shelter in refuge centres.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area with tiny glass-like particles that can permanently damage the lungs, leading to sickness or death.

Mr Leo Mapmani of the West New Britain Provincial Disaster Centre said health risks from the ash falls meant people were unable to return to their homes while the dust would damage food crops if rains did not wash it off soon.

PNG Red Cross, provincial governments, provincial disaster centres and the Salvation Army have taken emergency supplies to the shelters, said the IFRC's PNG head Udaya Regmi.

There were no reported casualties but the eruptions destroyed homes, plantations and wells, leaving villagers without food and water while ash columns disrupted domestic flights.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape visited the Ulawun refuge shelters in West New Britain province yesterday.

Mr Steve Saunders, principal geodetic surveyor at the Rabaul Volcano Observatory, told Reuters that Manam was expected to continue to erupt with active lava flows from the summit to the sea.

"Satellites are monitoring the gas and temperatures and we're monitoring deformation to see if we have any uplift," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2019, with the headline 'Thousands in PNG flee homes amid volcanic eruptions'. Print Edition | Subscribe