Date:         Sun, 25 Sep 1994 23:44:30 +1000
Sender: QUAKE-L Discussion List 
From: Kevin Vang 

As the eruptions from Tavurvur and Vulcan begin to taper off, many people
are returning to Rabaul to retrieve possessions and assess damage.  The
volcanic activity is reported by most media (newspaper and tv) to be
slowly but steadily declining although intermittant spurts of increased
activity occur occasionally for short periods.  On Saturday morning the
Telegraph Herald reports one such spurt from Tavurvur.

With people returning, many pictures are emerging from the city.  The
damage is very extensive and widespread.  The ABC and Channel 10 Sydney
are reporting total destruction to about 25% of structures in the greater
Rabaul area with another 50% suffering significant-moderate structural
damage. In the tv news photographs many of the buildings are still standing
although their rooves have caved in.

The pictures show immense amounts of pumice and ash in the streets.  It
seems to be very similar in color and texture and appearence to pumice-ash
in the area around Volcan Hudson, Southern Chile after the 1991 eruption.
I climbed Hudson and surveyed the area in February 1992 (about 6 months
after the eruption). For over 20 kms from the V. Hudson, the area was
covered in coarse, brown pumice in a matrix of brown-grey ash like the
reports from Rabaul seem to show. The houses and farms in the area were
buried and collapsed much in the same way as they seem to be in Rabaul.

The areas between Rabaul Town and the Tavurvur Volcano have suffered some
of the most extensive damage.  This includes the airport.  Thye parts of
the airport which didnt sink into the habor, are covered in 1-2 metres of
ash and pumice.  This also includes several housing subdivisions which are
destroyed.  The housing subdivision on Matupit Island is also destroyed as
the island (peninsula) also disappeared into the harbor.

The wharf area of the Rabaul Port seems to be partially intact although
the sea area where several boats are still moored looked like dry land.
The layer of pumice has been estimated as deep as 1/3 metre.  The pictures
give the appearence that the boats are moored in a desert (much like the
pictures of the Aral Sea where this is actually now the case).  One can
not discern any wave action in harbor.

The extensive plantations around Vulcan Vent have also been destroyed.
Much of the area around Volcan was used as plantations and local gardens.
Many of the small villages in the area are also buried.

The Channel 7 and Channel 10 News reported that there was strong pressure
by the landowners to move Rabaul to a safe location.  Many of the
residents who went back could only salvage a a handful of items.  What the
volcano missed the looters seemed to have gotten.  It seems that
concentrated bands of looters were active throughout the duration of the
eruption.  Their main targets were electrical apliances, furnishings and

Many of the old men who remembered the 1937 eruption say this one is much
worse and believe that Rabaul should be relocated according to television
and news reports. Personally I was surprised by the landowners reactions.
Given the nature of the Tolai people and the protracted legal wranglings
over Matupit Island, I suspected that they would want the city rebuilt
immediately, but it seems that the overwhelming degree of damage and
destruction has taken its toll on their normally spirited ambitions.
Maybe time will bring about a change of heart.

Given the politics and the nature of the Tolai, any relocation of the port
would likely require it to remain in East New Britain.  However, one of
the best alternatives would be Kavieng with a much lower seismic and
volcano risk.  Since the PM is from New Ireland, it may be a possibility,
but the Tolai would not think kindly of the port moving over to New Ireland.

Two ships are enroute from Rabaul from Moresby loaded with supplies.
Supplies continue to come in by air.  AIDAB is sending up a senior officer
who has lived in Rabaul for some time.  He will coordinate the Australian
government aid initiative.

Anyway the newspapers are reporting that are sunsets are likely to be
spectacular due to this event.  I still remember the incredible sunsets
from the eruption of El Chichon Volcano was I was an undergraduate in
Pennsylvania.  This last week in Sydney the sunsets have been spectacular
but that is all due to dust from the drought and smoke from the fires.  I
finally went for a hike today after two very busy weeks without a break and on
the southern bank of the Hawkesbury Watershed, I watched a great sunset
and listened to the lyrebirds call.

Goodnight from Sydney's North Shore


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