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By Philip Kepson

RABAUL, Papua New Guinea (September 29, 1998 - The National)---Rabaul town is built on a cycle of volcanic fire and the possibility of further destructive eruption cannot be disputed, according to volcanologist Chris McKee of the Rabaul Volcano Observatory.

He said the four destructive volcanoes that are currently located within the Rabaul caldera are capable of causing massive damage to human lives and property.

Speaking during the Institution of Engineers Conference in Rabaul last weekend, Mr. McKee warned authorities to make serious preparations for future catastrophes.

He said the first volcanic eruption in the Rabaul area occurred about 100,000 years ago and since then eight more eruptions have taken place. Five of these eruptions occurred in the last 20,000 years, with the major eruption that created Rabaul Harbor occurring about 1,400 years ago.

Numerous smaller eruptions have occurred since then, six of which were recorded by literate observers in the last 230 years: 1767 (Rabalnakaia or Tavurvur); 1791 (Tavurvur); 1850 (Sulpur Creek); 1878 (Vulcan and Tavurvur), 1937-43 (Tavurvur and Vulcan); and 1994 (Tavurvur and Vulcan).

The four major active volcanic sources currently located within the Rabaul caldera include Sulpur Creek, Rabalanakaia, Vulcan, and Tavurvur. The next eruption is predicted to take place from any of these four sources in 50 years' time.

Other volcanic sources located outside the Rabaul caldera include Turanguna, Kombiu and Tavui.

Mr. McKee said that despite Rabaul being the most dangerous part of the Gazelle Peninsula, the town was built there because the risk of volcanic eruption was overshadowed by the attraction of the deep-water harbor.

"The sad reality is that the town which grew to become the capital of East New Britain is actually located within an active caldera, or a large collapsed volcanic system," he said.

Mr. McKee said the 1994 volcanic eruption had highlighted the need for a better understanding of the eruptive history and of the nature and sources of potential volcanic hazards in order to plan more effectively for the future.

He said other risks that must be considered as part of any contingency plan include tidal waves, landslides, ash or mud flows and lightning discharges.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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