Ash blanketed the Comoros capital on Friday after the Indian Ocean archipelago’s Mount Karthala erupted for the second time this year, spewing smoke and cinders over the nation’s main island of Grand Comore.
Officials said there was no sign that the eruption late on Thursday had resulted in potentially devastating lava flows, but authorities announced precautions to deal with health hazards caused by ash and possible gas emissions.
“There was an explosion at the top of the Karthala volcano around 10pm [7pm GMT] on Thursday night,” said Abbas Mhadjou, the director general of semi-autonomous Grand Comore’s interior ministry.
“The explosion was confined to the summit and there was no lava,” he said after meeting with scientists from the Mount Karthala Observatory to assess the impact of the eruption.
Grand Comore’s central market was closed and the education ministry announced that schools would be as well. United Nations personnel on the island were advised to prepare for any eventuality, including possible evacuation.
Well after dawn, the sun was still not visible in Moroni, about 40km south-west of Mount Karthala, and witnesses said the few people venturing outside covered their noses and mouths to avoid inhaling ash.
Poor visibility forced motorists in and around the capital to use their headlights during what are normally daylight hours, they said.
The eruption of the 2 361m volcano was Mount Karthala’s second non-magma incident of the year.
In April, nearly 10 000 villagers in the shadow of the mountain fled their homes after ash from the last eruption sparked widespread fears of drinking-water contamination among Grand Comore’s 350 000 residents.
It was not immediately clear if Thursday’s eruption had caused similar reactions, but a resident of one village at the foot of the mountain said by phone that there had been no initial panic when the volcano “re-awakened”.
“We saw black clouds of smoke spreading out from the mountain, heard noises like tidal waves make and there were flashes but no storm,” the man said from the village of Maoueni.
Mount Karthala last had a magma eruption in 1977, when lava destroyed the village of Singani, about 20km south of Moroni, and toxic gas was released into the air but did not cause any deaths.
In 1991, French scientists recorded an internal eruption that spilled the crater-lake waters, without causing any casualties.
At the end of August 2003, a rumour that Karthala had erupted — caused by plumes of smoke from a huge brush fire in the hills around the capital — sparked mass panic in the streets of Moroni.
Galeras erupts in Colombia
Meanwhile, Volcano Galeras, located near Colombia’s southern Colombia border with Ecuador, began erupting on Thursday, but there have been no early reports of damage or casualties.
The eruption began at 7.46am GMT and continued for about a half-hour, according to Marta Calvache, an official from Colombia’s Institute of Geology and Mines.
“It was a small eruption that spewed ash around the volcano,” Calvache said. “There was also a jolt that was felt in the region, but it was not strong.”
However, she said it is not clear how Galeras will behave in the future, and urged local residents to be cautious.
A layer of ash covered the town of Pasto, but mayor Raul Delgado said the situation was under control. — AFP