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Governor appeals for boats & fuel as second Sepik volcano fires up

Kadovar Island in eruption
Kadovar Island in eruption

KEITH JACKSON

NOOSA - The population of a second volcanic island in Papua New Guinea's Schouten Group is being evacuated as another volcano erupts.

But East Sepik Governor Allan Bird says his province is running out of fuel and does not have enough boats to manage the evacuation.

"At 1am I was informed that Biem island volcano, as we feared, is now also becoming active. Biem [also known as Bam] is now our priority because there are more than 3,000 people on that island,” he said.

Some 1,500 people on nearby Kadovar Island had been moved to nearby Ruprup Island but these people must be moved again as Ruprup is also at risk from the surrounding volcanic activity which is intensifying.

“I have requested the use of the South Sea Tuna vessel to immediately steam to Ruprup island and begin evacuating our people there,” Governor Bird said.

“We now have two volcanoes erupting concurrently. We are doing our best and deploying all our assets to this effort. I ask the entire nation to pray for mercy so that no life can be lost in this impending disaster and I thank everyone for their prayers.

“We are running out of fuel and we don't have enough boats."

The Kadovar island volcano began emitting smoke and ash last week, prompting the evacuation of more than 500 people. But as eruptions became more violent, those who fled Kadovar had to be taken to the mainland.

Volcanologists said there are no confirmed records of a previous large-scale eruption on Kadovar.

Schouten IslandsThe Wiley Online Library says that there are six volcanic islands running parallel across the Schouten Islands which forms the western end of the Bismarck volcanic arc. The islands are named after Dutch explorer Willem Schouten, who observed an eruption, probably from Biem Island, during his passage through the area in 1616.

Ruprup (also known as Blup Blup) is about 30 km offshore from Cape Girgir with a summit of 402 metres and dimensions of 2 km by 3.5 km. The island is deeply eroded and has a lagoon on the north-west side and a circular drowned crater on the south-west side.

Kadovar is located south of Ruprup and 25 km north of the Sepik river mouth. It has an elevation of 365 metres and is only 1.5 km long and wide. Volcanic activity was reported in the early 1900s and again in 1976, when all residents of the island were temporarily evacuated, although an eruption did not occur.

Biem is the highest of the Schouten Islands at 685 metres and it is 55 km NNE of the mouth of the Sepik River. The island has an oval shape and dimensions of 2.4 by 1.6 km. It consists of the remnants of an older volcano and a younger volcano at whose summit is the active crater.

Biem is one of the most active volcanoes in PNG, with a long record of historical eruptions recorded since 1872. The inhabitants have an oral tradition of a major eruption leading to many deaths and the temporary evacuation of the island possibly in the mid-1800s. Minor eruptive activity in the late 1950s led to another evacuation

Bill Brown MBE has written of the posting of controversial kiap Tom Ellis, then in his early years in the service, to Biem Island as it was about to erupt in 1954:

"Tom Ellis had gone to Bam Island probably only in his second term as a kiap then…. As a new kiap, posted to Madang, he had carried out long, thirty-day patrols in the then uncontrolled Adelberg Ranges with CPO Brian Proctor.

“District Officer C D Bates appreciated Ellis’s ability, but the starchy, upper echelon at headquarters were less forgiving of his earlier career. Recalled from the Sepik to Madang, Ellis was assigned to Bam Island which was rumbling, smoking and threatening to erupt. Ellis spent two to three months on Bam, and hated it."

It must have been a serious misdemeanour for the young Ellis to have been posted to an active volcano.

Meanwhile the Australian government has extended itself by committing $25,000 of humanitarian aid for people evacuated to Ruprup island.

Sources: British Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Service, Radio New Zealand International, East Sepik Provincial Government, Wiley Online Library, PNG Attitude

Comments

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Ross Johnson

This item by Keith brought back quite a few memories, both of the return of the villagers to Bam Island and my part in it and also Tom Ellis, my mentor in my early days and a person whom I deeply respect and remember with affection.

I was posted to Bogia in February 1955 to take charge of the Bam Island Rehabilitation Project following the earlier (November 1954) evacuation of the population (some 500 people) as a result of volcanic activity.

The project involved preparation and maintenance of gardens, construction of housing and co-ordination of educational and health services. However, despite best efforts from all concerned, the people suffered extensively from malaria (Bam Island being malaria free) and cultural dislocation and following several deaths the decision was made to return the people to their home island.

In early May 1955 I took an advance party of able-bodied males (about 30-40) back to Bam on the MV Koro (approx. 10-12 hours sailing from Bogia) to rejuvenate the gardens and repair village housing in readiness for the return of the Villagers – there were 3 small villages on the island.

Tony Taylor, the Rabaul Vulcanologist, accompanied our party and set up a range of volcano measuring instruments (tilt meter, seismograph and thermometers in several vents to measure temperature) and instructed me in their operation – I had a 3BZ tele-radio and made twice daily reports of readings, including weather reports, to District HQ in Madang.

I remember that before Taylor returned to Bogia on the M V Koro (about 3 days later), he (with me as a ‘Chainman’) did a traverse (survey) from the anchorage, up the escarpment and around the lip of the actual crater which at times was only about 3' to 6’ wide.

I also vividly remember one afternoon when the volcano gave a cough resulting in a cloud of ash being discharged from the crater. In an instant, the day was turned to night and we all immediately took shelter – it took about 30 minutes for everything to clear but it was a bit un-nerving as we had no means of escape if a fair-dinkum eruption took place.

I was there for about 6-8 weeks and being overdue for leave I was relieved by Tom Ellis (see Note 2 below) in July 1955 (not 1954) and proceeded on leave to Australia.

On leaving, the Villagers presented me with a carved ‘Paddle’ that’s in the spare bedroom at home – a memento I’ve always treasured. I also have a few b&w photographs of the Bam Island Rehabilitation Project at Dagoi (Bogia) as well as some of Bam Island itself.

Additional Notes:

1. For a summary of the history of Bam Island (and other Islands), but more particularly, the section entitled ‘Bam Tragedy of 1954-1955, refer to the ‘Tony Taylor and an Eruption Time Cluster: 1951-1956’, http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p223471/pdf/ch092.pdf).

2. Tom Ellis: Tom and especially Freda Ellis were great friends of Roma Bates (my late mother-in-law). When I was first posted to Madang as a Cadet Patrol Officer after doing the ASOPA Short Course in October/November 1952, Tom Ellis was the Acting District Officer (notwithstanding his substantive rank of Patrol Officer) in charge of the Madang District (C D Bates, District Officer, was on leave).

I was initially posted to the Amele/Gogol River area south of Madang to carry out road and bridge construction on the (then) proposed Madang/ Gusap Road before being transferred to Aiome Patrol Post in the Ramu early in January 1953 to accompany PO John Jordan on a first contact/exploratory patrol to the Kairong and Simbai valleys of the Schrader Ranges between the Ramu and Jimi rivers.

C D Bates returned from leave early in 1953 and in April or early May I was transferred back to Madang as I was selected (?) to escort his daughter to the Coronation Ball, and, as they say, the rest is history.

The fact that it was Tom Ellis who relieved me on Bam Island was because the ‘misdemeanour’ referred to by Keith Jackson necessitated fairly drastic action by the authorities.

Tom and I did the ASOPA Certificate Course in 1956 and, of course, Tom, being a relatively senior officer (7/01/1936 seniority) and now without any ‘promotion bar’ impediment, eventually went on to become District Commissioner, Western Highlands, then Director, Department of District Administration and later Secretary, Department of the Administrator. Tom was 40 years of age when he was ‘posted’ to Bam Island (DOB 9/05/1915) – I was nearly 22.

Bernard Corden

$25,000 would not keep our foreign minister clothed or account for the accommodation and other expenses at Airways.

Daniel Doyle

$25,000 in aid for 3,000 totally disrupted lives! How generous you are, Australia.

Barbara Short

There are reports at the moment that Biem volcano is not erupting. So the people on Biem (Bam) may not wish to be evacuated. This is something that is being discussed at the moment.

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