Thousands flee as volcanoes erupt

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The Independent Online
PORT MORESBY (Reuter) - Papua New Guinea yesterday declared a state of emergency in the area surrounding the north-east port town of Rabaul, after 30,000 people fled from erupting volcanoes and earth tremors on the island of New Britain.

The volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, spewed smoke miles into the air and blanketed the town in hot ash and mud, up to 30in thick. The two volcanoes last erupted in 1937, killing more than 500 people. But there were no official reports of deaths this time.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio said a helicopter pilot saw pieces of debris the size of trucks coming from one of the volcanoes, and what appeared to be boiling water in the harbour.

The port, one of the biggest copra and coconut-oil shipping centres in the Pacific, was closed as was the local airport. Evacuations began at the weekend, when repeated tremors on New Britain, 800km (500 miles) north-east of Port Moresby, the capital, signalled intensifying volcanic activity.

An earthquake registering five on the Richter scale shook the area on Sunday. Only a few residents stayed in the town. 'I didn't think it would be so bad,' said Dominic Schmidt, a mechanic.

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