Thousands evacuated, flights cancelled as Mt Ulawun in PNG erupts

Photo: Air Niugini

The Mt Ulawun volcano in Papua New Guinea erupted Monday, forcing the evacuation of more than 5,000 persons, cancellation of flights into and out of Hoskins, and ashfall affecting a wide area.

Air Niugini suspended all flights to Hoskins after the volcanic ash covered the airport area including the runway.

Niusky Pacific issued a “stop press notice”  to close the airport until further notice.

The Hargy Oil Palm Ltd evacuated more than 5,000 people to a care center away from the heavy ash fall.

The Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO) said the volcanic eruption was still in an active phase with the presence of an eruption column, and it was possible that the eruption would continue indefinitely.

“Based on wind direction it would be west to northwest as reported earlier, and areas in the eastern side of the volcano are less affected by the ash fall,” a RVO statement said.

“More details will become available after the provincial disaster office personnel conducts field assessments.”

Air Niugini said it was closely monitoring the situation and would issue updates as the situation developed and more information became available.

“Passengers holding tickets for flights to or from Hoskins may rebook their travel for later dates, with penalties waived,” a statement from the airline said.

The National Airports Corporation (NAC) also advised the travelling public and stakeholders of the airport’s temporary closure.

“This temporary closure is necessary to ensure the safety of the travelling public and aircraft operations due to the ash fall,” it said.

West New Britain’s East Nakanai president James Laula said the people from four villages had been evacuated.

“It is getting worse and people from Ulamona have been evacuated to Kabaiya. Surrounding villages in the vicinity of the volcano have been moved also,” he said.

He said it would be safest to move the people all the way to Bialla town.

“The situation is unpredictable,” he said.

He said people living in care centers could also be affected by the flow of lava and dust from the volcano. “I appeal to the district administration, provincial administration, National Disaster Office and the Government to look into this and come up with plans to make sure the people (are moved to a place) where they won’t be affected by this eruption,” he said.