More than 5000 people have fled their homes after a volcano erupted in a remote part of Papua New Guinea’s West New Britain, local media have reported.
Eyewitness accounts online showed people evacuating their homes, as a large column of black smoke and red lava spewed from the crater of Mount Ulawun, known to be one of the most hazardous volcanos in the world.
Satellite imagery showed the eruption plume reaching heights of between 13 and 15 kilometres.
Volcanic activity began about 7am on Wednesday, with rumbling and booming noises heard throughout the day. An eruption warning was issued prompting an evacuation.
Flights have been cancelled into nearby Hoskins Airport and lava has cut off the New Britain Highway in three locations, according to local media.
Pilot Eroli Tamara took images of rising smoke as she flew past yesterday afternoon.
“The top of the ash cloud did look to extend well up to 30,000-40,000 feet [10-12 kilometres],” she told the ABC.
Papua New Guinea’s Post Courier reported that more than 5000 people have been evacuated. A shortage of vehicles had slowed down the process.
A community leader told the Post Courier that only five vehicles had been working non-stop to ferry people from the danger zone.
“The government did not come to help and we had to use whatever means we had to move people,” Christopher Lagisa, a village elder and local palm oil estate owner told the ABC.
“It was quite a lot. Even we had to ask people to start walking then get picked up on the road. I don’t know why the government came in very late.”
Mr Lagisa said the volcano had been monitored all night.
“It started and has calmed down within 24 hours, which is unusual because normally it would go for four to seven days before it calms down,” he said.
Ulawun is the highest and steepest of PNG’s volcanoes and is considered to be one of the six ‘high-risk’ volcanoes in the country, according to the Papua New Guinea Geological Survey.
While Ulawun has produced small eruptions periodically for the past few decades, the last eruption of this scale occurred in September 2000.