A Major volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea this morning could disrupt flights to and from Australia. The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin is monitoring the ash cloud from Tavurcur on PNG’s East Britain Island, which is slowly drifting southwest. Senior meteorologist Ian Shepherd said they were watching the cloud closely and providing advice to airlines. “The volcanic eruption reached the top of the atmosphere at 50,000 feet which is the same height as which planes travel,” said Mr Shepherd. “It’s too early to say at this point if the ash cloud will reach Australia but it was a significant eruption.” He said the cloud was identifiable on satellite imagery but it was not possible to gauge its size. Cyndee Feals, also from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin, said the ash cloud was drifting southeast and had the potential to disrupt air travel. “The ash was initially blowing to the southwest but has now turned to the southeast and we expect it to clip the edge of Australian airspace later today, but we don’t expect ash over Australia,” she said. Planes may be forced to take alternate routes with the ash forecast to move towards the Solomon Islands and then Vanuatu, she added. Ash clouds have played havoc with Australian aircraft in the past with the eruption of a Chilean volcano in 2011 grounding hundreds of flights. Tavurvur, on the tip of New Britain island in the country’s east, erupted sending lava into the air and causing panic among locals. It has previously erupted in 1937, 1994, 2006 and again last year. The news site PNGloop reported that ash from the volcano is blowing toward the north coast of the island. The site also posted a notice from the Department of Mineral Policy and Geohazards Management that stated the eruption commenced between 3.30am-4am. The eruption involved “incandescent projections and ongoing loud roaring and rumbling noises,” the notice stated.
The Australian government issued a warning against travelling to the area. “Authorities have evacuated communities close to the volcano. Residents of Rabaul town have been advised to remain indoors to avoid falling ash,” it said. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage. In Rabaul, the ground was covered in a layer of ash, local reports said. “Police have cautioned people not to panic but remain indoors and listen to local Radio East New Britain for updates,” the PNGloop website said. “The situation has eased except for the rumbling and roaring as rocks are shot into the air.” The 688-metre volcano has erupted several times before, notably 20 years ago. In 1994, major eruptions at both Tavurvur and nearby Mount Vulcan destroyed much of Rabaul, and while loss of life was minimal due to a quick evacuation, looters ransacked the town. Herald Sun