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By Alison Bevege
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A remote island volcano in Papua New Guinea has begun spewing ash into the air, forcing the evacuation of more than 500 residents, media and non-profit groups have said.
Kadovar Island, a 365-metre (1,197-ft) -tall volcano on the north coast of PNG, was thought to be dormant until it began erupting on January 5.
"It's just a continuous emission of volcanic ash at the moment," Cheyne O’Brien, a forecaster at the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, told Reuters by telephone on Sunday.
The ash clouds have been thrown up steadily to a height of 2,133 meters (7,000 feet), forming a plume that is travelling west-northwest, he added.
The plume does not yet pose a hazard to aviation, but a change in wind direction could hit operations at PNG's Wewak airport, O'Brien said.
All residents of the island have been evacuated with no loss of life, U.S.-based charity Samaritan Aviation, which operates seaplanes to remote areas of PNG, said on Facebook.
"We do not have any details yet as to where all of the families have gone and hope to have further information in the near future," the non-profit added.
Reuters could not immediately reach authorities in Papua New Guinea by telephone for comment.
The population of the island ranges from at least 500 to more than 600, media have estimated.
The eruption may become explosive, bringing a risk of tsunamis and landslides, domestic online media Loop PNG quoted the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory as saying.
There are no confirmed records of a previous eruption of Kadovar, said Chris Firth, a vulcanologist at Macquarie University, but scientists speculate it could have been one of two "burning islands" mentioned in the journals of a 17th-century English pirate and maritime adventurer, William Dampier.
Dampier may have recorded the last eruption of Kadovar during a voyage in search of "Terra Australis", the southern continent once thought to be mythical, Firth said.
Vulcanologists are interested to observe its behaviour now, Firth added.
"It's hard to predict what might happen, as there's nothing to compare it to."
(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)