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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Islanders Bracing for Fiery Debris

SYDNEY, Australia — From Conny Martin's standpoint, the empty expanse of the Pacific Ocean where flaming chunks of the Mir space station may find their watery grave does not feel empty at all.

German-born Martin is one of 2,800 people living on Chile's Easter Island, a triangle of volcanic rock marooned in the ocean, 3,200 kilometers from the nearest big population centers in South America or Tahiti — and potentially in Mir's flightpath.

"As we are the most affected ones, we get the least information," the tour operator said Wednesday in a telephone interview from the remote outcrop famous for its mysterious, giant stone heads.

"We're just hoping nothing will land on us. What can we do? We can't move out of the way," she said, uneasy at the thought of 136 tons of red-hot space junk crashing down from above.

Some debris — possibly the size of a small car — is expected to be scattered over an area up to 6,000 kilometers long and 200 kilometers wide, pounding into the ground with the force to drill 2 meters into reinforced concrete.

From Easter Island to Fiji, residents and governments of the South Pacific micro states were on alert.

Job Esau of the National Disaster Management Office in Vanuatu, a tropical paradise of 182,000 people, said authorities planned to issue a bulletin Wednesday and would hold meetings with community leaders Thursday.

"The things we are going to look at are keeping ships in harbor, people staying home," Esau said.

Fiji warned its 800,000 people to stay indoors after Thursday night, not to set out to sea and to avoid any "foreign objects." Japan has issued a similar advisory.

Australia and New Zealand are monitoring Mir's path and have contingency plans in place, officials said, while airlines would be informed of the station's position in case they had to reschedule flights across the Pacific.

New Zealand officials are trying to contact a fleet of American tuna-fishing boats from Western Samoa believed to be in the area.

Ulafala Aiavao, of the 16-member South Pacific Forum, said Mir's splashdown was likely to become a rallying point for island state opposition to turning the Pacific Ocean into a "space junk graveyard."

"Mir will raise the profile of that issue," Aiavao said from the Fijian capital, Suva.

Fiji, meanwhile, continued to play palm-fringed host to a U.S.-Russian expedition to record the space station's final moments on high definition television. Veteran cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev, the only human being to have toasted the New Year three times in orbit and with 747 days in space under his belt, said he felt a great sadness that Mir could not have been kept for posterity as a museum. "Of course I am very sad. … But life is life," Avdeyev said in a telephone interview from Fiji.

The flight engineer was part of a 48-strong group of scientists, space journalists, cameramen and fee-paying passengers who plan to fly two aircraft from Fiji to within a few hundred kilometers of Mir's re-entry into the atmosphere.