Dormant volcano wakes, spews lava in first eruption
A DORMANT volcano has erupted in spectacular fashion, spewing lava for the first time in known history and sending an ash cloud 2.1 kilometres above sea level.
The volcano, on Kadovar Island northeast of Papua New Guinea lay dormant until January 5 when it began to erupt at around noon, local media reports. Experts are calling it the "first surprise volcano to erupt in 2018".
Thick dust, clouds and smoke have carpeted the island, along with showering neighbouring islands with ash as experts race to discover why the volcano sprang to life. The eruption also stripped much of the land on the island.
The volcanic island lay approximately 24 kilometres from the northern coast of mainland Papua New Guinea.
Authorities were alerted after receiving calls for help from distressed residents.
At least 600 residents who lived on the island were forced to evacuate - some in a dingy - as authorities rushed to help the displaced.
First surprise eruption of 2018! Kadovar in Papua New Guinea has first historical eruption and villagers on the small island have not been found by rescuers: https://t.co/bRd0s10fVX pic.twitter.com/upQTIBGHRX— Erik Klemetti (@eruptionsblog) January 6, 2018
The Rabaul Volcanological Observatory told Loop PNG the eruption could "become explosive".
"Due to the steepness of the island, landslides are possible and together with the explosive nature of the magma, tsunamis may be generated," a report read.
"IT appears from satellite imagery and aerial photographs that it started with mild vulcanian activity from a vent at the SE (southeast) base of the cumulodome".
"It appears a fissure may be opening just inside of the western wall of the vent's breach, descending down to at least sea level.
Wewak District Administrator Ricky Wobar said the situation on the island had "worsened" after flying overhead "to assess the situation on the island, where they observed lava coming out of the once dormant volcano".
"The situation is very critical," he said on social media.
Authorities sent boats from Kopar, Kadovar's nearest island neighbour, approximately half an hour away, to evacuate residents living on the island.
Fifty to sixty per cent of the island is covered by lava since the volcano began to erupt.
"The island is in a critical situation. The clouds are darker and increasing at an alarming rate," Kopar councillor Tom Kelly told Loop PNG.
While it is the first time believed to have erupted, a possible eruption was witnessed by early explorers in 1700. The volcano was quiet again until 1976 for a short period of heightened thermal activity and again in 2015 with a burst of "seismic unrest".