Date:         Mon, 19 Sep 1994 22:39:55 +1000
Reply-To: Dr Kevin Vang 
Sender: QUAKE-L Discussion List 
Comments:      W: SENDER field duplicated. Last occurrence was retained.
From: Dr Kevin Vang 
Subject:      Re: RABAUL UPDATE
Comments: To: Multiple recipients of list QUAKE-L ,
          Multiple recips of list SEISM-L ,
          Multiple recipients of list VOLCANO 
To: Multiple recipients of list QUAKE-L 
Status: OR

Tonight September 19, 1994, Rabaul is a town buried under a meter of wet
ash as the eruptions continue to belch ash and smoke.  Up to five vents
have erupted, however only the eruptions of Tevurvur and Vulcan Vents
have been confirmed by the Government Seismologists.  These two vents
continue to belch large quantities of ash.  This is mixing with the
tropical rains to bury PNG's 3rd/4th largest city.

Julius Chan, PNG's new Prime Minister (from New Ireland) has declared a
state of emergency.  He flew to Kerevat this afternoon and took a
helicopter inspection near the area.  He has called off his trip to the
United Nations this week to coordinate the disaster response. (Chan has
only been PM for two weeks after ousting Pius Wingti in a vote of
no-confidence after the Supreme Court declared his snap 2-second
resignation and self reinstatement unconstitutional). Chan has also
launched an international aid appeal, and declared an air excursion zone
around the area.

The evacuation which mostly took place last night was very successful.
The entire population of 30,000 people was evacuated as tremors preceding
the eruptions shook the area. The tremors shook the whole area with
people on Matupit (sp?) Island reporting tremors every few minutes
starting at about 6:00 PM Sunday Night.  A child was killed when he was
hit by a evacuation vehicle.  This is the only fatality linked to the

The Tevurvur Vent erupted in the wee hours of Monday morning (reports
vary from 3:00AM to 5:00AM.  This was a mild eruption.  However with the
dawn came the eruption of the large Vulcan Vent in a massive explosion.
Some casualties resulted from this eruption, mainly from people who
refused to evacuate but these were very few.  One party that was
fleeing during the Vulcan eruption was hit by lightning resulting in a
few fatalities.  Heavy lightning and thunder activity resulted from this
eruption. Some people are attributing the heavy rain to the eruption as
well but it is likely just normal tropical showers??

By morning all communications had been lost, however the Volcano
Observatory phones managed to work on and off through the morning.
The nights winds which were generally blowing NNE-NE (taking the ash over
New Ireland changed direction with the dawn).  They started blowing N-NNW
and as the afternoon progressed, the winds became more westerly. As night
fell the cloud was actually moving WSW and the cloud had reached the PNG
mainland between Lae and Milne Bay.

The eruptions caused extensive ashfall in Rabaul itself.  The Observatory
at dawn could still see the town below, but soon after dawn the ash clouds
headed straight north covering the city. Ashfalls are reported across New
Britain and New Ireland with reports in Rabaul of between 1/3- 1 metre and
rising fast. Many buildings have collapsed and trees been toppled by the
weight of the wet ash.

As the day wore on, the eruption seemed to grow and as many as five
vents, some submarine were reported in eruption.  However between the
heavy ash and the afternoon rains, noone has been able to evaluate the
situation to confirm what is actually happening.  Radio Australia was
waxing dramatic, talking about the sea boiling and town disappearing.

As for the century long saga of Matupit (sp?) Island/Peninsula, noone can
confirm its status.  As of noon it was still there, but its future is
anyone's guess (but then it always has been).

The ABC (Australian Broadcast Corp) will have a helicopter up at first
light.  The morning is likely to bring another difficult chapter in PNG's
colorful and belabored history.

The preceeding has been compiled from news reports, personal
conversations, email from our PNG FSP Affiliates and Government releases.
The accuracy is probably close but the situation is very dramatic and
difficult, so there are conflicting accounts.  I will make corrections
and updates as news comes in.

What is clear is that this has been one of the most successful
evacuations in Volcano Evacuation History especially considering the very
short time that the town had.  Even the Rabaul Observatory Scientists
commented on how unusually rapid this event set on.

This will make an ideal case study for other large communities near
active volcanoes (although I am not sure there are too many towns
actually in the middle of calderas) ;-)

Kevin Vang

PS: Australia is facing its own natural disasters tonight as bush fires
rage in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.  A state of
emergency has been declared in and around Taree and Port Macquarie as the
fire seasons comes early this year.  NSW is 75% drought covered,
Queensland 50% and ACT 100%.  The very dry winter has dried out these
states nearly completely.  Meanwhile Sydney has suffered a damaging
windstorm, and Tasmania has been buried under a freak September snowstorm.

Just another day in the good ole South Pacific

Dr. Kevin Vang, School of Earth Sciences/ School of Philosophy, History and
Politics, The Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2019, AUSTRALIA

Director, Environment and Development Group International, 64/302 Burns
Bay Rd Lane Cove, NSW 2066 AUSTRALIA Email 

Senior Program Coordinator, Australian Foundation for the Peoples of the
South Pacific, 1A Barry Road, St Leonards, Sydney, NSW, AUSTRALIA