Thousands of people have been left homeless and stranded after an erupting volcano turned a whole town into ash in Papua New Guinea, according to an official on Thursday.

Mount Ulawun — one of the world’s most hazardous spots of volcanic activity — began spewing lava and smoke high into the air late on Wednesday.

A community elder, Chris Lagisa said, “People had gathered at a church hall to flee on lorries, trucks and 4x4s, clutching sacks filled with belongings”.

The volcanic activity at Mt Ulawun began at 7:00 am this morning after the slight rumbling and light emission,” Leo Porikura, an official with the West New Britain Disaster Office, told AFP.

Thousands of people live in the shadow of Ulawun, despite it being one of the most active volcanoes in the country.

The official said the people living in the vicinity of the volcano have been instructed to move away to safer areas and a disaster team has been dispatched.

He further said, “The disaster team will liaise with the local community, local businesses and local level government authorities to prepare for a possible eruption”.

A team of experts had visited earlier this month and reported that the volcano was “quiet” adding that “there is no indication of any change in its state of unrest.”

(With AFP Inputs)