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Volcano under close observation, no immediate danger

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 3, 2010) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a level three alert has been declared following a series of eruptions at the Manam volcano in Madang Province last week.

[PIR editor’s note: Manam volcano on Manam Island is Papua New Guinea’s most active volcano and is located about 16 kilometers northeast of Bogia.]

The Rabaul Volcanic Observatory had to put out the alert following a series of eruptions on Christmas Day which increased in magnitude over five days to 30 December.

According to Sir Peter Barter, the eruptions have frightened over 1000 villagers on the island who are demanding to be evacuated to the mainland but government officials including Governor Sir Arnold Amet have gone to the island to assess the situation and provide assurance to the fear stricken villagers.

"Manam Island began a series of eruptions on Christmas Day and activities continued up until December 30 when larger eruptions occurred resulting in some panic by people that have returned to Manam Island. Whilst there was evidence of lava flows in two valleys, most of the villages were intact and the eruption had subsided. The Rabaul Observatory increased the level to 3 which basically warns people not to climb to higher gardens or walk into or across the valleys in fear of lava flow," said Sir Peter who flew to the island with an official from the Provincial Disaster Office on Christmas day.

"Both the Prime Minister and Acting Prime Minister were advised and contact was made with the Director of the PNG National Disaster service, Martin Mose who has since dispatched the operations manager to coordinate activities in Madang," he added.

Sir Peter, Rabaul Observatory Officer, Herman Tibong together with a representative of the Provincial Disaster office and Bogia administration flew to Manam for an aerial inspection on the weekend. They advised the people that there appeared to be no immediate danger providing precautions were followed and the people were assured that the situation would continue to be closely monitored.

Following the visit to Manam, Sir Peter made quick stops at Asuramba, Malala, Mangem to assure the people there was no immediate danger but the National Disaster Office, along with Rabaul Volcanic Observatory would consider further actions if and where necessary.

Sir Peter has recommended that Radio Madang be put back on air immediately so people on Manam could be kept informed of any development.

"Clearly they were frightened, many demanding to be relocated to the mainland," Sir Peter said, adding that unless some arrangements were made for shelter and food, evacuating people could result in serious problems, especially given the fact it was a holiday weekend and it would be difficult to get services delivered.

The Manus Border barge was placed on alert in the event it was necessary to evacuate Manam.

At Dugalava, a villager told the visiting team that more than 1000 people needed to be evacuated and similar stories emerged from other villages right around the Island.

Sir Peter provided funds to purchase petrol and diesel and the Provincial Disaster office drove the fuel to Bogia overnight so that evacuations could take place at day break if necessary.

Surveillance was carried out on Boxing Day with Tibong, Governor Sir Arnold Amet and Peter Torot to assess the danger to the people remaining on the Island.

The Governor and Peter Torot visited Dugalava, Border, Bien and Tabele to gauge the reaction of the people, most of who were concerned about a catastrophic eruption.

Their concerns were put at rest that no immediate danger existed, but they were warned not to walk into valleys or tend to gardens on the slopes.

Sir Peter purchased a replacement battery for the seismic equipment and when installed, it would allow the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory to monitor the activity of Mamam more scientifically.

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