INCREASED CONCERN OVER MT. ULAVUN VOLCANO

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 8, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Melbourne Storm rugby league star Marcus Bai says he will withdraw from the Papua New Guinea Kumuls team to the World Cup in England and France this month if the Mt. Ulavun volcanic activity worsens.

Bai, who comes from this area of West New Britain province, told the FM100 Talkback Show in Port Moresby that his family is affected and this has played on his mind during the week at Goldie River Barracks, where the Kumuls are in training camp.

"This week has been a hard week for me and I had considered pulling out of the side," he said, adding that he would not think twice about quitting the World Cup if the Mt. Ulavun situation worsens.

The Kumuls have now gone to Townsville to take on Australia in a warm-up test. But Bai said he hopes to travel to Kimbe upon return to help raise funds for his displaced people.

Mt. Ulavun, which erupted two Fridays ago, has quieted, although more than 4,000 people in the Bialla area have been affected. They have been moved temporarily to care centers in safe zones.

Meantime, Governor Clement Nakmai has launched a West New Britain provincial government disaster relief fund appeal.

Bai said his Melbourne-based club has already raised some money for the appeal, which he will sent to Kimbe as soon as he gets back to Melbourne.

The West New Britain provincial government treats seismic activity seriously, as there are six active volcanoes in the province, Governor Nakmai said.

He said apart from the active volcanoes, there are four dormant volcanoes and eight extinct volcanoes. There are fears that should Mt. Ulavun erupt, a chain reaction may be set off, triggering eruptions of the other volcanoes.

According to one of the scientists who has been monitoring seismic activity there, Mt. Ulavun is among the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

In addition to the domino effect, the scientist, who declined to be identified, said that due to its steepness, any major eruption may force a cone collapse into the sea, causing a tsunami that could affect the many coastal villages of West New Britain, New Ireland, Manus and the Mamose region.

The actual seismic eruption recorded by the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO) was characterized by forceful ejection of thick ash plumes, rising 100 to 200 meters (330 to 660 feet) above the summit.

According to the observatory, southwestern winds blew the ash to the north and southwest, resulting in fine ash fall between Ulamona station and Noau in the Bialla District.

The observatory also reported ash being blown to the west, affecting places like Kabaiya, Soi, Navo and areas further west.

Nearby residents reported hearing sounds of explosions.

Assistant RVO director Ima Itikarai warned the people residing downwind to take precautions like staying indoors with their doors and windows closed.

He said that due to advance warning received from their monitor at Ulamona, the observatory recommended to the West New Britain disaster committee to declare a Stage Two alert.

Mr. Nakmai, on a visit to the affected areas, said more than 4,000 villagers had fled their homes.

They left behind food gardens and water sources, which were destroyed and contaminated by the ash fall.

Mr. Nakmai said a provincial disaster coordination office has been established in Kimbe.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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