Eruption of Mount Lamington

Mount Lamington began to erupt on the night of 18 January 1951.

Three days later there was a violent eruption when a large part of the northern side of the mountain was blown away and devastating pyroclastic flows (steam and smoke) poured from the gap for a considerable time afterwards.

The area of extreme damage extended over a radius of about 12 km, while people near Higaturu, 14 km from the volcano, were killed by the blast or burned to death. The pyroclastic flows and subsequent eruptions of dust and ash which filled streams and tanks, caused the death of some 3,000 persons, and considerable damage.

Rescue parties which arrived on the scene were hampered by suffocating pumice dust and sulphurous fumes, and hot ashes on the ground. The advance post of relief workers at Popondetta was threatened with destruction by other eruptions during the several days following. Further tremors and explosions occurred during February. As late as 5 March a major eruption occurred which threw large pieces of the volcanic dome as far as three kilometres and caused a flow of pumice and rocks for a distance of 14 km, the whole being so hot as to set fire to every tree in its path.

Vulcanologist and former Australian Army Warrant Officer, George Taylor, studied the volcano during the eruption cycle. His work is credited to saving lives by informing rescue parties when it was safe to go into the area. In 1952 he was awarded a George Cross for his efforts.

A summit complex of lava domes and crater remnants rises above a low-angle base of volcaniclastic deposits that are dissected by radial valleys. A prominent broad "avalanche valley" extends northward from the breached crater. Ash layers from two early Holocene eruptions at Lamington have been identified. After a long quiescent period, the volcano sprang suddenly to life in 1951, producing a powerful explosive eruption during which devastating pyroclastic flows and surges swept all sides of the volcano, killing nearly 3000 persons. The eruption concluded with growth of a 560-m-high lava dome in the summit crater.