500 Flee Surprise Eruption of Remote Papua New Guinea Volcano

A remote island volcano in Papua New Guinea has begun spewing ash into the air, forcing the evacuation of more than 500 residents, media and nonprofit groups said.

Kadovar Island, a 365-meter (1,197 feet) tall volcano on the north coast of PNG, was thought to be dormant until it began erupting Jan. 5.

“It’s just a continuous emission of volcanic ash at the moment,” Cheyne O’Brien, a forecaster at the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, told Reuters by telephone Sunday.

The ash clouds have been thrown up steadily to a height of 2,133 meters (7,000 feet), forming a plume that is traveling west-northwest, he added.

The plume does not yet pose a hazard to aviation, but a change in wind direction could hit operations at PNG’s Wewak airport, O’Brien said.

All the residents of the island have been evacuated with no loss of life, U.S.-based charity Samaritan Aviation, which operates seaplanes to remote areas of PNG, said on Facebook.

The eruption may become explosive, bringing a risk of tsunamis and landslides, domestic online media Loop PNG quoted the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory as saying.

There are no confirmed records of a previous eruption of Kadovar, said Chris Firth, a volcanologist at Macquarie University, but scientists speculate it could have been one of two “burning islands” mentioned in the journals of a 17th-century English pirate and maritime adventurer, William Dampier.

Dampier may have recorded the last eruption of Kadovar during a voyage in search of “Terra Australis,” the southern continent once thought to be mythical, Firth said.

Volcanologists are interested to observe its behavior now, Firth added. 

“It’s hard to predict what might happen, as there’s nothing to compare it to,” he said.

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