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The volcano in 1994 buried Rabaul town with ash

By Elizabeth Vuvu

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, July 11, 2008) – Students from the Malaguna Technical High School in Rabaul town, East New Britain province, have been affected by the ash fall and dust from Mt Tavurvur.

[PIR editor’s note: New Britain Island is located northeast of the Papua New Guinea mainland peninsula. Rabaul is the provincial capital of East New Britain province, located on the northeast tip of the island The last major eruption of East New Britain’s Mount Tavurvur volcano was in 1994 when the province’s capital, Rabaul, was buried in ash.]

The school suspended classes on Monday and sent students home after experiencing heavy ash fall that started last Thursday.

Headmistress Evah Magaga said the situation was risky for students and teachers.

She said Rabaul district education officer Rennie Matane had been advised of the situation.

"It is very difficult to teach and learn in the classrooms that do not have windows and dust keeps getting into one’s eyes and face," she said.

Mrs Magaga said they had noticed that vegetation around the school had turned yellowish and the suspected sulphur from the ash fall was causing this chemical reaction.

Next Monday, the school administration will meet with students and decide whether they would go on with their emergency plan.

Mrs Magaga said this plan included Grade 10 students coming in on a given day to pick up assignments and take them home.

"The assignments would be given a day to complete and hand in for marking. The same would apply for Grade Nine students until ash fall clears," she added.

The situation has prompted her to call for a mobile school to be set up.

She said this could include a building kit on wheels that could be used in such situations.

Mrs Magaga said the mobile school could be carted to an ash fall and dust-free area where students could attend classes.

She also suggested the establishment of a vocational school at Vunavutung in the north coast area as a sister school where classrooms could be used as an alternative to provide lessons.

"Things are not in our favour and in future only students from the Rabaul district may be enrolled at the school so that having a mobile school in the north coast area will cater for the students," Mrs Magaga said.

The Rabaul Volcano Observatory officials said that ash fall was still expected and was due to blockages of the vent as debris accumulated.

This enabled gas and steam pressures to build to level where the blockage was expelled through thick ash, they said.

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