A volcano erupted in Papua New Guinea for the first time in twenty years, ejecting smoke and ash into the heavens above as locals and tourists alike sought shelter from the apocalyptic scene. The South Pacific island nation could be mistaken for a set used in the Hollywood thriller ‘Dante’s Peak’.

Mount Tavurvur’s volcanic activity begun during the wee hours of Friday morning, situated on the tip of East New Britain province it is a smaller island located east of the mainland. The eruption sent ash as high as 50,000 feet, the height at which many commercial aircrafts operate. Flights by a handful of international carriers have since been diverted around the affected region adding an additional five minutes or so to their flight time, according to a spokesman for Qantas.

Authorities issued several warnings to the people of Rabaul Township, advising them to stay indoors to avoid the ash or leave town if possible. Nearby residents have said that the initial eruptions sounded like ‘Sonic Booms’, and fear they might even cause tidal waves. Even though reports suggest there were no injuries or loss of life, widespread damage to crops and livestock was inevitable.

Rabaul was considered an important settlement as the provincial capital up until 1994, when it was almost completely destroyed by the falling ash of a more violent eruption. After the eruption the capital was moved to Kokopo, roughly 20 kilometers away. Built on the edge of “Rabaul caldera” translating to Rabaul Volcano, the town is under constant threat due to its proximity. Historically the region has witnessed significant activity, in 1937 Tavurvur and Vulcan (another sub vent of the Rabaul caldera) erupted simultaneously, killing 507 people.

This experience led to the immediate establishment of the “Rabaul Volcano Observatory”. Besides monitoring the regions’ volcanoes (14 active and 23 dormant), it conducts: volcanic hazard assessments, studies of the patterns of activity of the monitored volcanoes with a view to the detection of eruption precursors and provision of warnings and most importantly assists in the preparation and revision of volcano emergency plans.