Monday, November 28, 2005

Eruption causes concerns in Comoros

Thick volcanic ash blanketed the greater part of the island of Grand Comore today after Mount Karthala erupted for the second time this year. Officials warned there was a risk of poisonous gas emissions and polluted water supplies, and urged people to stay indoors as dust and ash continued spewing out of the notoriously active volcano.

"We are expecting serious consequences in terms of health - water will be polluted and [there will be a] food shortage if it lasts longer," World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Dr Mamadou Ball told the UN media 'IRIN'.The risk of a full-blown eruption remains a concern, but there has been no sign of potentially devastating lava flows, and no casualties have been reported as a result of the volcanic activity that began on Thursday night.

"The amount of volcanic ash in the air has made it impossible to fly over the summit of Mount Karthala to assess the risk - it is impossible to drive, and authorities have warned people to stay home," said Giuseppina Mazza, the UN Resident Coordinator.Comparing the situation to the eruption in April this year, when ash and other debris contaminated the island's water supplies and forced 10,000 people living in the shadow of the mountain to flee, Ms Mazza warned, "The risk depends on the toxicity of the dust and this dust seems much heavier," she added.

Mount Karthala, one of the world's largest active volcanoes, is the southernmost and largest of the two volcanoes that form Grand Comore Island in the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago. It has having erupted more than 20 times since the 1800s.Mount Karthala has a great potential of destruction, causing Comoran authorities and humanitarian agencies to be on high alert. The volcano last erupted in July 1991. At that occasion, no persons were killed although tens of thousands of villagers had to flee their homes.

Large damage was done to crops and pastures. The volcano is known to erupt in a cycle of approximately 11 years. Two strong eruptions in 1972 and 1977 did significant damages as lava flows reached the ocean. In 1977, the coastal village of Singani was partly destroyed by lava flows. In 1860, a lava flow even reached the coast close to Moroni, the capital of Comoros.

The entire Comoran archipelago - with the four major islands Grande Comore, Anjouan, Moheli and Mayotte (the latter a French colony) - is created through volcanism in geologically modern times. The volcanoes are a result of the island of Madagascar's drifting from the African continent and subsequent tensions in the stretching sea floor.

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