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Old 05-10-2002, 05:32 PM
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Mt. Pago, New Britain, Papua New Guinea, August 2002

MY ESCAPE FROM THE VOLCANO - By Emma Butler

My name is Emma and I come from Galeoale which is a coastal village near Hoskins in West New Britain Province. My close family live on a copra block called Baru Block about 4 kilometres from the main village. I usually live in Port Moresby and my husband Michael is a pilot with Airlines PNG. Recently my baby daughter and I were visiting our village for 2 weeks when a nearby normally dormant volcano, Mt Pogo, began to erupt. Here is my account of what happened to us during the eruption:

Friday the 2nd of August. It was that night when we came back from the fellowship. We were eating some fish when we felt the earthquake. It went on non-stop until Saturday morning. We could still feel the earthquakes while we were eating our breakfast. We went to the garden as usual that morning. After we finished in the garden we came home to prepare our dinner. We had dinner, had our shower and went to bed as normal.

Sunday the 4th of August. We woke up very early and prepared our breakfast because we have Mass at 8 am. One of my uncles came in the car to pick us up so we could go to Mass. After we had finished having our breakfast we got ready and went to Mass at the main village, Galeoale. We spent the day in the village then we later left for the block. We always have our prayers at the block on Sunday afternoon. We finished at 8.30 pm and had a good night’s sleep. The eruption started very early that morning at 3 am.

Monday the 5th of August. My mum heard the noise of the volcano and she thought it was a gun shot. Ha Ha! I wouldn’t have thought it was a gun shot. To me it was too loud and kind of a heavy noise. We woke up and we looked up at the sky and it was dark with smoke, and it was so cloudy we thought it was going to rain. We were about to have our breakfast when one of my brothers came back from the airport. He works with Air Niugini and he told us that the volcano, Mt. Pogo, was erupting and that the airport was closed.

Also that morning one of my uncles tried unsuccessfully to get on the plane to go back to Moresby after a week’s break from his studies. Mt. Pago is only 18 km from Hoskins airport. Our village is about 16 km from the mountain. Well that was supposed to be the last morning with my family in the village before my little girl and myself were to leave for Moresby. Thinking of my two sons back in Moresby with their dad, I then knew that I was not going to see them for quite a while because of the eruption and the airport being closed. Anyway, after having my breakfast I went into Kimbe town to do some shopping. The first thing I did was to call the house in Moresby and I was lucky because my husband was back from his early flights, so I told him that we might not be able to come the next day because of the eruption.

I did the shopping and was in a hurry to go back to the village thinking of everyone, especially my little girl who I had left with one of my nieces. When I came out of the shop I saw my sister and her husband, and they told me that the eruption had got worse after we left. When I heard that, I started getting terrible thoughts in my head, thinking what will happen next and here’s me in town and my little girl in the village with the rest of my family. We managed to get on the PMV bus and at least we were on our way back to the village which is a 45 km drive.

When we got to the village everyone was sitting under our house with their bags all packed, anxious to leave. It spoiled our plans because that very afternoon we were supposed to have a send off party for my little girl and myself. By the way, the volcano didn’t stop me from cooking to prepare for the party. I cooked our meal in our house and used the gas stove. But because of the volcano the people who were supposed to come that evening for the party didn’t turn up.

We had our kaikai and we put the kids to sleep and we adults stayed awake with handkerchiefs on our noses. That afternoon the road was busy with trucks loading people and transporting them to the care centres in Kimbe town. It was very sad because that night it was raining in Kimbe town itself and there was no shelter or food for the families. They were just left out in the open space. So bad. Anyway we were still in the village and stayed awake until daybreak.

Tuesday the 6th of August. That was the very day that we were supposed to fly back to Moresby. It was a lovely sunny morning and we thought that it was the end of the volcano. As usual we had our breakfast but our things were all packed. It was about 10 am or 11 am when the volcano started sending very large amounts of volcanic ash into the sky.

We quickly started moving everyone, running away with all their bags of clothes. I had our suitcase on my head. In one arm, I was holding my little girl and had a bucket on the other hand. Also my pregnant sister-in-law was rushing with us with her bags and beddings on her head. It was very sad and hard for her because it was very close to her due date for the baby to be born.

We all raced to the main road and waited patiently for the truck to come for us. When things like this happen all you can think of yourself, is getting away to a safe place. As for myself and my sisters, we stayed together with our families and our mum and we all ran away together. That’s one good thing about my family, we have concern for each other. We waited for 20 minutes before the truck came.

We loaded the truck with our belongings and on our way to Kimbe town. We could not think where we would be able to stay after we arrived there. But we’re so lucky because one of my uncles has a house in Kimbe, so we went to his house. We didn’t have any idea how he would react when he saw a truck loaded with 20 people with so much cargo. But I thank God because when we arrived at his house, he was there thinking of us and he welcomed us with a warm smile and open arms. Now at his house he had to accommodate 11 families including his own family

Wednesday the 7th of August to Saturday the 10th of August. Anyway, we stayed for 5 days there in Kimbe with everyone. During this time we organized to travel on a ship to Rabaul and then catch the plane from there to Moresby. On the Friday we returned to the village to check on everything. What we found was that everything was covered with volcanic ash and the village looked as if there was no life in it because it was so empty and quiet and grey.

The only thing you can hear there is the wind blowing through the trees. You should see the dust coming off the trees as the breeze gently blew the leaves. There was about 5 mm of ash on the roofs of the houses. Some of the boys stayed at the block to look after everything and to protect it from other people who had been stealing things from the garden and houses. The boys would also sweep the dust of the roofs of the houses.

Our village up until then had been spared the worst of the ash, compared to other nearby villages where, because of the prevailing wind, the ash was much deeper. Even at Siki Primary School which is only about 1 km away, as well as the main village, the ash was much thicker. It was my last day to see the block too before leaving for Moresby.

We left everyone at Kimbe on Saturday. I can remember the sad looks on the faces of my family as we moved off from the wharf at Kimbe. I was crying and felt broken hearted. Sailing along the coast towards Rabaul in the late afternoon we could see the smoke coming out of the volcano. Also when we were flying back to Moresby we flew over Kimbe. As I looked down I had tears flowing down my cheeks as I thought of all my family and relatives there suffering with nowhere good to stay and worrying about their land and village and gardens.

I would just like to say, sometimes we hear about people leaving their villages for care centres when there is a natural disaster such as an earthquake, volcano or a flood or tidal wave. Mt Ulawun, a large volcano in the NE of West New Britain Province which has often erupted in the past is an example close to us. We thought it was easy for the people in the care centres.

If only we could put ourselves in their shoes, we would know what it feels like. I only had to experience it for 5 days but it was so hard. I feel so sorry for the kids. What I mean is, at your own house you have your own freedom to do things like cooking and caring for the kids; but if you’re at the care centres, you have to do things like cooking, washing and caring for the children only when it is your turn, and also there is nowhere to put your belongings or a good place to shelter.

Those families who are now sheltered at my uncle’s house are so lucky compared to the others living at the care centres. I thank my uncle and his family for accommodating our families. It’s a big responsibility looking after so many people.

On behalf of all our families who are sheltered at my uncle’s house, I would like to thank him and his family for everything. It’s hard to express it but thank you and only God will reward you and your family for your generosity and love. May God bless you and your family.

Here back in Moresby, I’m still thinking of everyone back there living in the care centres. I can’t forget the day it happened and I pray that God will help them in all their needs.

The End - Dated - 13th August 2002.



Special Feature - Aerial eruption photographs

These photographs were taken by Capt. Phillip Marshall on Monday 5th of August 2002. Capt. Marshall has kindly given permission to show these photographs, but retains copyright - please refer to the copyright provisions stated at the bottom of this thread.


Early morning shot over the region (Pago is on the left of the image). "The photo above was taken from 13000 feet at about 20 nm east; at that point I diverted to Tokua, at time 0615 am EST", Capt. Marshall says.
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:33 PM
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"The close up photos were taken on the flight back past Hoskins at around 0855 am EST. Wind was 120/140 degrees at about 15-20 kts., amount of cloud over East New Britain Island, but clear over the coast and sea, mostly blue skies. Photos taken from 3000 to 6000 ft flying on the E and NE side of the Volcano from about 4 nm. The ash cloud extended up to an altitude of around 6000 feet and extended to the NW over the Talasea Peninsula area, for about 40 nm."
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:34 PM
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:37 PM
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:38 PM
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:40 PM
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"The photo below captures the start of a pyroclastic flow down the southern side of Mt. Pago, which within a few seconds had raced down the hill side and engulfed the forest below."
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:42 PM
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:42 PM
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Old 05-10-2002, 05:45 PM
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The above images are copyright 2002 Capt. Phil Marshall and can be reproduced under the following conditions:

All photos reproduced must have his name and email address :

Email : flying777@bigfoot.com attached.

He is advised by email by each person intending to use the images, prior to their reproduction.

His photos may not be used for any commercial (ie: renumerating) purpose, without his prior consent in writing.

He maintains copyright to the above mentioned photographs and all subsequent reproductions.
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Old 05-10-2002, 06:01 PM
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Two more images can be found at the following website address :

http://www.bom.gov.au/info/vaac/erup...ago/Pago.shtml
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