Papua New Guinea 01/08/2011 earthquake : "happy end" for the people from Bam (Biem) volcano island + videos

Bam volcano, Papua New Guinea - Earthquake August 1 2011 - Image courtesy Smithsonian Institution

Earthquake Overview : A very strong shallow magnitude 6.8  earthquake occurred close to the coast of Papua New Guinea on Monday August 1 at 9:38 local time.  Soon after the earthquake, the Pacific tsunami and Warning Center issued a statement that NO widespread tsunami is expected from this earthquake. The epicenter of the earthquake is only 6 km from Bam (Biem) volcano island, an island populated by approx. 2,000 indigenous people. The building typologies are wooden, with reed and wooden roofs. Many are built on stilts.
We kindly ask people who felt this earthquake to share their information with (form below).
To read the full story as it happened, we advise our readers to start at the bottom of the page (earthquake data) and to continue going up.

UPDATE 22/08 - 09:15 : We found an additional report of Rachel and Brandon Buser as published in the San Diego Cristian College website :

We started getting reports from news agencies that there had been a significant (6.5) earthquake in our area and that the epicenter was right off the coast of Biem Island. Many started speculating that the volcano had erupted, and although we couldn’t see any plumes from 82 miles away, we began wondering as well. Early this morning however, we got word from the island that although the quake was severe, there had been no serious damages done and no news of volcanic activity other than the normal stuff…praise the Lord!

UPDATE  : Earthquake-Report made a short 3:23 overview video of this earthquake. Click here to watch it.

UPDATE 05/08 : Jason Stuart (see also messages below) has tried to give some more details on the question that it was hard to believe for us that no damage was inflicted. This is his reply to our questions :

"I have talked with some of the Biem people who were on the island when the earthquake occurred and they said the same as we had heard before--lots of shaking and no damage.
As to why there was no damage, I can't give you any specifics.  The Biem people would build using traditional materials--hardwood posts, section of coconut palm as bearers, and hardwood studs, with woven walls and thatch roofing, all of it tied together with vines.  I suspect that the reason there wasn't significant damage is that things are fairly flexible.
Our family usually lives in a village in the interior of East Sepik province where the house construction is similar.  Unless there are rotten posts or bearers, it is very rare for these houses to collapse.
I certainly can't give you any scientific reason for the lack of damage; my only guess is that the way the houses are tied with vines allows for a lot of "give and take"."


UPDATE 02/08 - 07:03 UTC : Jason Stuart and Toni Niemann living in Wewak, Papua New Guinea were  also anxious to know the faith of the Biem people as they had friends over there. Jason and Toni have just send us the following message :

The Biem folks who were coming to Wewak had to stop on Blupblup Island because of rough seas.  However, they do have cell phone coverage on Blupblup and our friends who talked to them said the Biem people told them that there was a lot of shaking with the earthquake but no damage to houses on Biem.

UPDATE 06:51 UTC : We are still awaiting news from the epicenter. We hope to hear from a boat heading to Biem Island at some point today to report on the effects of the earthquake on this island.

UPDATE 21:14 UTC : Still no news from the epicenter island.  It is presently early morning in PNG and we hope to receive good news today.

IMPORTANT UPDATE : We received this message from Jason and Toni Stuart, reporting out of Wewak, Papua New Guinea

The Brandon Buser and Thomas Depner families are all currently in Wewak and safe.

UPDATE 10:54 UTC : Another message out of Wewak, PNG (134 km from the epicenter) and the writer of the message below :  "I am the one who wrote earlier about being in the concrete floored building.  I have friends scheduled to arrive in Wewak in the next 24 hours from Biem Island by boat. ".

UPDATE 10:25 UTC : The blog content below comes from and is courtesy of the San Diego Cristian College and describes the last post of Brandon and Rachel Buser on his way to Bam (Biem) island. It is dated August 2011, but must have been written just before it , as the article does not mention the earthquake :

Updates from Brandon and Rachel Buser - Papua New Guinea

The Buser family - image courtesy

August 2011 - We’ll try to keep this one short, but it’ll be tough.
About a week ago our family flew out of Los Angeles and 5 days later we touched down in our supply town of Wewak, Papua New Guinea. It has been exactly 1 year since we left. Two days after we landed, I jumped on our little 23ft boat along with my co-worker Thomas Depner, and made the 5 hr trip back to Biem Island. What a thrill be back there and see the many faces that God’s allowed us to befriend over the years. They’re comments ranged from “man you sound terrible…your tongue is so ‘heavy’ from speaking just English for a year” to “My word, you’ve become SO fat!”. What a “warm” Biem style welcome.

The hardest thing about my return visit was the seeing the clear absence of our co-workers Wayne & Gail Chen. Gail continues to battle cancer at home in Taiwan. Doctors have said that any possible recovery will take 18-24 months and this has been a huge blow to them with the Gospel presentation looming in the future. Please continue to pray for them.

We’ve got some translation workshops to attend on the mainland for several weeks. After that, we’ll return to Biem as a family and set about language recovery. Pray that the information recovery goes swiftly. From there we’ll make preparations for literacy to begin and after that, the Gospel. There’s tons of work to be done between now and then and we pray that God would give us the stamina, wisdom, and health to move quickly as lives do hang in the balance.

Many of you know that months ago we shipped a sea container, with our larger boat inside it, from the States to PNG. About a week ago it was released from PNG Customs and delivered to Wewak where we’ll unpack it. We’ve still got a few papers to get signed but the container is in one piece, the customs charges (which could have been lethal) were reasonable, and hopefully we can extract the boat next week. Thanks so much for praying for the voyage, customs, and finances in this process.

Well, I’ll wrap it up for now. Much more to come as we get settled in here. We sure are thankful for you and the sacrifices you each make so that we can see the Biem reached with the Gospel.

Gratefully, Brandon Buser

UPDATE 09:12 UTC : We are hoping that the Missionary stations on the island will bring news asap.

UPDATE 09:10 UTC : It is currently dark in Papua New Guinea and as the island is poor, has no rescue helicopters or other modern rescue equipment, news has not to be expected soon.

UPDATE 08:31 UTC : We have decided to call this earthquake a Red earthquake, as we expect that a number of the bigger on poles constructed huts will be leveled (the contrary would be a miracle).

UPDATE 08:25 UTC : The video below gives an impression of how people are living on the Bam (Biem) Island. We apologize for the religious messages at the start of this video (we remain impartial), but also thank the Christian missionaries for their video for showing what life is like on this remote island. Copyright remains with the uploader on Youtube. Warning : Primitive living in this area of the world includes a not so friendly treatment of animals.  We warn animal lovers that a number of scenes are very cruel.

This is another video from the same mission featuring the people of Biem and the missionaries. (this video, more a slide projection) has NO cruel animal scenes)

IMPORTANT OVERVIEW UPDATE : Although there have been 7 damaging CATDAT earthquakes within 160km of the epicentre in the last 50 years, 1 of which killing 18 people, they have all been closer to shore.
The main worry is of course the Biem Islands, the southernmost of the Shouten Islands. Bam is one of the most active volcanoes in Papua New Guinea. The island is located 55km NNE of the mouth of the Sepik River. Bam is oval shaped, 2.4 km x 1.6 km, and covers 6 sq km in area. There are two peaks. The NW peak is the volcano summit, and the SE peak is slightly lower, according to John Seach.

Missionaries active on Bam (Biem) Island - We have however no certainty that they are still active today

3,100 people live on Bam (Biem) according to one missionary website .
A number of missionaries have travelled there in the last few years.
One of these, Brandon Buser, estimates that 2,000 people live there. As of 2008, the community on the island decided to convert to Christianity in the Biem language. If anyone has been on the island, it would be useful to know the building types used there, whether the traditional bamboo/wood hut, or whether volcanic rock is used. We now see using the below video, that the traditional wood hut is the most common.


UPDATE 07:52 UTC : Having now viewed the video of Brandon Buser and their family, we have seen that the building typologies are wooden with thatch or sheet roofs, which provides some form of flexibility for earthquake resistance. The single nature of the house that was built in 2008, looks to be built quite solidly, but also without many earthquake resistant procedures. Most of the buildings are built on wooden stilts. The wall was placed using a tilt-up procedure. The long supports for the verandahs also look reasonably unstable against lateral movement.

Hopefully being 9.38 local time when the earthquake occurred, most of the people were outside of the buildings, in the bay fishing or cooking.  There is most likely damage on Biem Island.

The soil cliffs formed by wave action may also be unstable to the earthquake shaking.

"If anyone can get news from Biem Island, please send it!"

UPDATE 04:31 UTC : VAAC Darwin (Volcanic Ash Advisory Committee) who is monitoring the air space above Papua New Guinea, has NO reports on any volcanic activity.

UPDATE 04:17 UTC : The origin of this earthquake can be both volcanic or tectonic. We still believe that it is tectonic as a transform fault line is very nearby.  The only way to find out what happened for sure is the ruling out of an eruption of the volcano.

UPDATE 04:12 UTC : GeoScience Australia is giving us more hope for the Bam islanders. The epicenter as calculated by them is approx. 20 km from the volcano edge. If this epicenter is confirmed later on, the risk for damage and casualties would be  decreasing a lot.

UPDATE 03:57 UTC : The distance from the USGS calculated epicenter to the crater of Bam Island is only 6 km!. The error margin as reported by USGS for this earthquake is 14.2 km!

UPDATE 03:42 UTC : Below a picture of BAM Island almost above the epicenter of this earthquake. The island looks uninhabited, but a reader reports of 2,000 islanders and also GDACS and USGS reports are talking about hundreds of people living here. These people have experienced severe to extreme shaking !

Bam volcano and Island, Papua New Guinea - Panoramio picture courtesy a_schneider -

UPDATE 03:31 UTC : In the mainstream press, this earthquake is reported as  "No damage or casualties". Reports are talking about Wewak, the city with most inhabitants, but Wewak is 134 km from the epicenter!
Nobody seems to be aware of the people living right on top of the epicenter and of the outcome of the volcano.

IMPORTANT UPDATE : We just received a message from someone living in Wewak, 134 km from the epicenter.  He indicated a Strong shaking (VI MMI) vs IV predicted by USGS. :

"I was in a concrete floored building so the shaking didn't feel so strong, but the overhead lights were really swaying...And, to correct your information, Bam Island (also spelled Biem) has a population of about 2000 people.  I have good friends that live there."

UPDATE 03:08 UTC : As this area is remote and has a lot of volcanoes on a small area of 50 sq. km, we do not expect that the volcanic earthquakes are being followed by scientists.  The relation of the current heavy earthquake and a possible volcanic eruption is of course highly speculative. The main reasons to include an eruption scenario are the nearby volcano, the very shallow depth and the explosive character of some eruptions.

UPDATE 02:59 UTC : The top of the volcano is 683 meter above sea level and the island area is approx. 5 km²

UPDATE 02:50 UTC : EMSC has reported a depth of 15 km but GFZ has reported a depth of 5 km. Additionally,

the epicenter as calculated by the different agencies is a little different. We have mapped the epicenter of USGS, FFZ and EMSC in the picture below. The distance to the volcano crater is in all cases only a few km.

UPDATE 02:36 UTC : We will probably have to wait for satellite pictures before we will now whether Bam volcano erupted or not.

UPDATE 02:31 UTC : Based on the information below, we fear that the people living on the volcanic Bam Island are at extreme risk, even when they are living in wooden houses.  The chance on landslides (also underwater landslides) cannot be excluded.  This fear extends even further if the volcano would have been erupted.

UPDATE : The shallow depth and the uncertainty of the epicenter (an error margin has to be taken into consideration) are making a volcanic earthquake possible although the high magnitude should be very unusual.
Bam Island volcano information :  The small 2.4 x 1.6 km island of Bam is the summit of a mostly submerged volcano that is one of the more active in Papua New Guinea. Bam is the SE-most of the Schouten Islands, and lies off the coast of New Guinea, about 40 km NNE of the mouth of the Sepik River. A steep-walled summit crater that is 300 m wide and 180 m deep is the source of Bam's recent eruptions, which have kept the upper half of the cone sparsely vegetated. A NE-trending landslide scarp extends across the upper part of the andesitic volcano from the SW coast, and a large submarine debris-avalanche deposits lies to the south and SW. The younger summit cone partially buries the eastern side of the collapse scarp. A recent lava platform on the north flank supports the small island's only villages. Historical eruptions, recorded since 1872, have been restricted to small-to-moderate explosive activity from the summit crater. For instance, an eruption on Bam (Papua-New Guinea),  resulted in abandonment of the island for several years.

UPDATE : The maximum shaking as expected by the USGS will be =
X MMI : Extreme shaking for 212 people
VIII : Severe shaking for 161 people
VII  : very strong shaking for 140 people
VI : strong shaking for 30,000 people
V : moderate shaking for 432,000 people
IV : light shaking for 3,018,000 people

Shaking map (yellow = strong shaking area) - Map courtesy USGS

UPDATE : The earthquake's epicenter is very close to Bam Island, an active volcanic island with only a few villages and with a probably people count of 314 .
It can not be excluded, although the chance is very minimal,  that this earthquake may be related to volcanismBam is an active volcano which had a last eruption in 1960.

UPDATE : Communications with this part of the world will be almost inexistent. It may take several days before the final outcome of this earthquake will be visible to the rest of the world.

UPDATE : We expect that Northern Australia might have felt this earthquake as a weak shaking.

UPDATE : Due to the massive energy of this earthquake, it will be felt in a range of more then 1,000 km.

UPDATE : The epicenter is located in a remote off-shore area of the island.

A very strong shallow magnitude 6.8  earthquake occurred close to the coast of Papua New Guinea on Monday August 1 at 9:38 local time.  Soon after the earthquake, the Pacific tsunami and Warning Center issued a statement that NO widespread tsunami is expected from this earthquake. The epicenter of the earthquake is only 6 km from Bam (Biem) volcano island, an island populated by approx. 2,000 indigenous people.

Most important Earthquake Data:
Magnitude : 6.8
UTC Time : Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 23:38:57 UTC
Local time at epicenter : Monday, August 01, 2011 at 09:38:57 AM at epicenter
Depth (Hypocenter) : 16.8 km
Geo-location(s) :
134 km (83 miles) E of Wewak, New Guinea, PNG
211 km (131 miles) NNW of Madang, New Guinea, PNG

Links to important maps
USGS Did You Feel It Map
Google satellite map of the area showing the kind of terrain the earthquake took place
3-dimensional view of the earthquake area (USGS epicenter location)
USGS historic earthquakes map
USGS Seismic hazard map
USGS Impact on Population map
USGS Shaking map
GDACS earthquake report
NOAA tsunami report

QuakeSOS+ and QuakeSOS free are iPhone applications developed by Armand Vervaeck, the founder of Earthquake Report. The Application simplifies immediate group communication to friends and family members (with your exact GPS location) and is feeding the users with Earthquake Report news.
The 0.99 US$ QuakeSOS+ version will support the activities of SOS Earthquakes.

a headlines on twitter
@OnlyQuakeNews : Get all the headlines of our articles + regular updates on ongoing events
@QuakeSOS : news + automatic earthquake notifications of USGS earthquakes of M 4.0 or higher with emphasis to earthquakes in the America's and the Pacific Ocean sphere (4 and up) and a lot of the rest of the world (5 and up). This account was created for our QuakeSOS and QuakeSOS+ iPhone applications
@ShakingEarth : news + automatic earthquake notifications of EMSC earthquakes of M 4.0 or higher with emphasis to earthquakes in European and Asian / Middle East sphere (4 and up) and a lot of the rest of the world (5 and up). This account was originally created to stimulate our Facebook account
@QuakeMaps : news with mapping notifications of ALL earthquakes M 3.0 and higher from all over the world via EMSC and USGS. This account was created for our website

I did feel it – Ik heb het gevoeld – Το έκανα αισθάνεται – Yo lo siento – 我的确感到了 – 私はそれを感じていました- Ich habe es gefühlt – Bunu hissediyorum yaptı – لم أشعر أنه


  1. Jason Stuart says:

    The Brandon Buser and Thomas Depner families are all currently in wewak and safe.