SYDNEY, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Over 5,000 people have been evacuated over the past 24 hours after a volcanic eruption in the West New Britain Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG), which sent a plume of ash 19 km into the sky.
Although Mount Ulawun is among the six most high risk volcanoes in the South Pacific country according to the PNG Geological Survey, disaster response officer Martina Taumosi told the Post Courier Newspaper on Thursday that the intense eruption which occurred at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday took locals by surprise.
Working quickly to move people from the areas of Ulamona and Noau to safety at Kabaya, the official said, "They could not move the villagers quickly because they were short of vehicles."
With just five vehicles shuttling people to safety, local community leader Chris Lagisa said responders worked non-stop to get villagers to safe ground.
"The immediate need now is for food, water and medicines because the people were just recovering from the long wet season and were surviving on oil palm harvest due to the depleted food supply from the gardens," Lagisa explained.
While a provincial disaster team has been sent in to carry out a damage assessment on Thursday, local media reported that initial observations indicate that lava flow has cut off the New Britain Highway at three separate locations.
The national carrier Air Niugini has also cancelled all flights in the vicinity of the region.
The last time Mount Ulawun erupted on such a scale was back in May 2001.