Divine Word Missionaries
Info & News
Volcanic eruptions in Rabaul - PNG
I have just received a telephone call from Archbishop Karl Hesse (1:45pm Saturday) informing us that there has been a major volcanic eruption in Rabaul.
Presently the fall out seems to be going towards Kokopo. Bishop's house is in total darkness and he needs a flashlight to get around in his house. There are constant earth tremors, every two seconds. The news from the disaster-rescue people is that all the people in and near Rabaul will need to be evacuated; masks are given out to protect against the fumes. Refugee camps will be set up again on the plantation grounds in and around Vunapope.
The morning started with blue sky, sun shining, no warning and all quiet. Then at about 8:45 - 9am the first eruptions started and could be clearly seen from Kokopo. When it got worse, Archbishop Karl tried to drive towards Rabaul to get more details but was stopped at a place called Blue Lagoon by the police and not allowed to go further. Even there, mud and rocks were landing on the roof of his car.
All plane flights were diverted to Kimbe and Buka. There are presently no flights in or out of Rabaul.
At this moment we have no news of any deaths or injuries. We will keep you informed as we get the news.
From: SVD Treasurer PNG
About 9 am on Saturday, 7th October I saw the white smoke above Tavurvur, one of the sleeping volcanoes near Rabaul. It was a clear sky; an ordinary day like any other day. But in the next half hour the sky was filled with black clouds; lightening, thunder and earthquake started increasing; noices like the gunshots from a canon came at irregular intervals.
By 10 am the people of Vunapope, which is almost 20 km from Rabaul as the bird flies, started watching the eruptions from the mountain. All the airlines cancelled the flights to and from Tokua Airport.
Archbishop Karl Hesse straight away went into action. He drove to see what is happening but he could not proceed after 10km. He returned and started making necessary arrangements to get the people affected by the eruptions. He made arrangements for the ships and the places for accommodation.
By 2pm the noises were still on the increase; whole of Gazelle Peninsula was filled with dark clouds and dust. Rabaul town and the villages near Rabul were very badly affected by lava and dust. People were able to come away with their small belongings to safer places from where ships were bringing them to Kokopo and Vunapope. About 4,000 people got temporary shelter in the Diocesan Hall; Pastoral Centre, OLSH School and the nearby areas.
By 5 pm eruptions, earthquake etc subsided, but the sky was stil filled with black clouds. I was able to go with Abp. Hesse to some of these places in the night. I felt sorry for them. They were filled with dust; they walked with belongings and children; filled the hall which was filled with dust. I admired the way Abp. Hesse organized their places for sleep; food to eat. He has experience from the Volcaninic Eruptions in 1994 in which more than 100,000 people were affected.
On the next day, Sunday, it was very normal: clear sky without any volcanic activity. People came to Mass as usual. The people in the shelters perhaps had a sleepless night. The government was supposed to have a meeting this morning about an action plan. But thank God, the Church was quick to give a hand to the affected people shelter and food and comforting words. As this report is being sent, there is a report of a missing child and no other deaths. But lots of property destroyed.
5pm Sunday: There are occasional eruptions from the Valcano but very mild. The sky is clear but the floor of the houses; the roof-tops; the leaves of the trees are filled with dust. Some people want to return to their houses in the affected villages near Rabaul. But the police are asking them to go to the Government Land which was alloted to them after the Eruptions in 1994.
Volcanic Eruptions are natural recycling. There are scientific explanations for these volcanos. But there is another explanation by the Catholics of Rabaul: 7th of October is the Feast Day of our Lady of the Rosary. Some Catholics went on a procession with the statue of our Lady in the street on the previous day, Friday. But some non-Catholics snatched the statue, broke the head and threw it away. God Punished the people of Rabaul for this irreverence.
God's ways are mysterious!
Fr. Victor Roche, SVD