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Old 01-08-2005, 01:34 PM
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RABAUL - Life after the volcanoe devastation

It used to be the most liveable city in Papua New Guinea - it’s now the most unbearable.

Ten years after the volcanic eruption that devastated the former capital of East New Britain Province, life is still miserable. In this report, Papua New Guinea correspondent Shane McLeod travels to a city gasping for air.

The 1994 eruption of Tavurvur and its sister volcano Vulcan buried Rabaul under two metres of ash. The city was evacuated, and the PNG government set about relocating the capital to the nearby town of Kokopo.

“Many people returned, but services haven’t been restored,” said McLeod. “Half of the town remains buried and abandoned”.

McLeod visits nearby Matupit Island, where there’s no power, telephones and not even a school. Most of the people used to work in Rabaul- now so many are unemployed because they can’t afford to travel to the new capital of Kokopo.

Others had a vested interest in coming back. Motel owner Bruce Alexander had to literally dig his business out. But almost a decade after the eruption, the volcano’s shadow still looms large.

“How long do we have to wait for this volcano to stop?” he asks. “At what stage do we walk away, and will the eruption stop the week after we leave?”.

Rabaul will be forever remembered also as a headquarters for the Japanese during the Second World War. The occupiers fortified their positions by digging hundreds of kilometres of tunnels in the hills around Rabaul.

McLeod meets Matt Foley, an Australian ‘coastwatcher’ who hid in the jungle and spied on the Japanese. Fifty seven years later, he still lives in Rabaul, and curses the volcano that’s now made life difficult.

“We’ve lost a lot of people over the eruption” he laments. “A lot of old timers have left”.

But Rabaul is surviving thanks to a new Japanese invasion. Plane loads of tourists are braving the ash and making a pilgrimage to Rabaul to retrace the steps of their forebears who served during the war.

“Wars couldn’t destroy the city” said McLeod “ The ash is more destructive.”

“But a spirit and determination is keeping Rabaul alive”.
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