Papua New Guinea volcano erupts

MICHAEL KOZIOL
Last updated 14:04, August 29 2014
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Papua New Guinea volcano showing its fury.

Residents near an erupting volcano in Papua New Guinea are waiting to see if they need to evacuate, and a giant ash cloud is affecting some flights to and from Australia.

Mt Tavurvur, in East New Britain province, began erupting overnight. The volcano destroyed nearby Rabaul township in 1994, and residents fear a repeat, PNGLoop reported.

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Authorities were still considering the situation.

The eruption, which began between around 3.30am local time, caused explosions strong enough to rattle residents' windows.

Ash covered Rabaul and shops were closed, but otherwise life was continuing as normal, PNGLoop reported. 

Satellite imagery showed the plume had reached a height of about 18 kilometres, indicating a significant eruption.

Commercial flights typically cruise at altitudes of between nine and 12 kilometres and the Bureau of Meteorology has issued an advisory to airlines indicating where the cloud is likely to spread.

"The initial low-level ash is moving northwards, but as it gets a bit higher it's likely to spread out both to the north and south along the western side of the volcano," said Craig Earl-Spurr, meteorologist at the bureau's Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre. The bureau will continue to monitor the plume as it dissipates.

Qantas will reroute some flights around the ash cloud.

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"As a result of the volcanic ash cloud, QF21, QF22 and QF130 will reroute their flight path to fly around it," a spokeswoman said.

Flights QF21 and QF22 operate between Sydney and Tokyo, while QF130 is a flight from Shanghai to Sydney.

Virgin Australia had no flights scheduled to operate near the ash cloud, but the company will closely monitor the situation as it develops, a spokesman said.

The Rabaul caldera at the north-east end of New Britain, PNG, has a history of regular low-level eruptions. The Tavurvur volcano experienced eruptive activity in early March that generated ash plumes up to one kilometre high.

Volcanic ash can cause trouble for aircraft. In 1982, all four engines on a British Airways 747 bound for Australia flamed out when it flew through ash from an Indonesian volcano. Pilots descended to 12,000 feet and were able to restart the engines.

Fairfax Media