15 Jul 2006

Villages evacuated near volcano in Papua New Guinea

8:16 am on 15 July 2006

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from villages near a Papua New Guinea volcano following strong tremors that scientists warn could mean an eruption is near.

The volcano near the town of Bialla on the island of New Britain is being monitored by staff from the Rabaul Volcanology Observatory.

It has reported high levels of tremors in the area though no reported thermal activity from the volcano.

Disaster officials says three villages had been evacuated, and up to 1,400 people moved to camps away from the danger zone.

The Provincial Disaster Office, Red Cross, Salvation Army and Caritas are assisting the evacuees with food, water and shelter at the camps.

An official says Earthquakes in the affected area were being felt every 40 to 60 minutes and a volcano monitoring officer was knocked off his feet by one strong tremor.

AusAID has responded to a PNG request for additional monitoring equipment and two technical experts from Geoscience Australia are flying in to help.