Thousands of residents of an island near a Papua New Guinea volcano have been evacuated after escalating eruptions sparked fears of a possible landslide and tsunami, authorities and reports said Sunday.
The previously dormant volcano, more than 500 metres (1,640 feet) high, on the northern island of Kadovar off PNG erupted on January 5 with all 600 residents evacuated.
But volcanic activity significantly escalated in recent days, culminating in a big blast on Friday, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory (RVO) said.
“Big rocks were blasted out and there was a significant amount of material involved,” the RVO told local news website Loop PNG.
“The rocks were glowing red… previous to this blast, it was observed that the fracture, which was apparent in the initial aerial photos, running from the summit dome down to the coast, had apparently widened.”
More than 3,000 residents on surrounding islands Biem and Ruprup were also evacuated, local reports said, after fears a second volcano on Biem had also erupted.
Local volcanologists have yet to confirm the second eruption, with the RVO saying the tremors could be from the ongoing activity on Kadovar.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said his government was supporting the evacuations as he warned of a possible tsunami.
“The terrain around the (Kadovar) volcano is very steep, so this increases the risk of a large landslide that could trigger a tsunami,” O’Neill said in a statement Sunday.
“Tsunamis can travel hundreds and thousands of kilometres across open water, so communities must be ready if there is a landslide.”
He added that flights had been cancelled and all ships and boats not involved with the evacuation effort were to keep clear of the area.
Tsunamis can be triggered by undersea earthquakes or due to the eruption or collapse of volcanoes located on coastlines, according to the United States Geological Survey.
Massive eruptions can cause giant landslides which can in turn generate tsunamis when the landmass enters water at a high speed.
PNG sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where high volcanic and seismic activity is the norm.