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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 22) – Thousands of people on the eastern side of the Siassi Island in Morobe province are homeless after fleeing to higher grounds after the nearby active Ritter Island blew up.

The Disaster and Emergency Office in Lae last night said the island erupted last Saturday and was spewing ash and smoke, catching the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory by surprise.

Disaster and Emergency director Roy Kamen said reports from the area confirmed that tidal waves created by the eruption smashed into Kabi and Kampalap villages on the eastern part of Siassi Island, flattening four houses and sending about 10,000 local villagers fleeing to the hills for safety.

There were no immediate reports of casualties but Mr Kamen is leading a surveillance team into the area to check on the situation on the ground.

"Ritter Island is an active volcano so we were not surprised at the eruption," Mr Kamen said.

However, he said, there was no seismic activity in the area to indicate that the eruption was imminent.

In 1888, half of the Ritter Island collapsed under a massive eruption triggering a huge tsunami that destroyed the northern region and claimed hundreds of lives.

Reports reaching Lae did not say whether tidal waves generated by the latest eruption were as destructive to other small islands in the area and parts of the East and West New Britain provinces.

Mr Kamen said a councillor from Ward 18 in the Siassi local level government Thomas Joseph reported the eruption and destruction to the villages.

His report, Mr Kamen said, were confirmed by two others sources, the headmaster of the local Lablab High School and the manager of the Siassi Development Corporation.

In the meantime, Mr Kamen has urged the people in the eastern part of the Siassi Island to move to higher grounds until further notice from his office.

He said the aftershocks from the latest volcanic eruption could trigger further tsunamis and it was advisable for the people in low lying villages and areas to move to higher grounds for their safety.

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