Sunday, January 14, 2007

Comoros' volcano displays signs of activity

Comoros' Mount Karthala begun emitting fumes and producing a red glow over the top of its volcano, residents said on Saturday as the Indian Ocean archipelago's main island was put on alert.

The 2,361-metre (7,746-foot) Mount Karthala, one of the world's largest active volcanoes, dominates the island of Grand Comore but its past periodic eruptions have rarely caused a major disaster.

"Since yesterday evening, the volcano has become eruptive," Hamidou Soule, a geologist who heads the Karthala volcano surveillance centre, told Reuters.

He said the lava level had risen in the volcano's crater. Mount Karthala has erupted every 11 years on average for the last two centuries.

Residents of Mvouni, a town at 1,000 metres altitude on the volcano's west slope, were woken up by strong fumes.

"My neighbour woke me at two o'clock in the morning and we saw the red glimmer in the sky," said resident Halima Ahamada.

"A strong smell of burning earth took us by the throats."

Colonel Ismael Daho, head of the emergency management team for the archipelago, said Grande Comore had been put on red alert.

In May, the volcano frightened thousands of residents when it bubbled lava and lit up the night sky, but later stabilised.

The last big eruption, in April 2005, sent thousands fleeing in fear of poisonous gas and lava.
The worst disaster on record came in 1903, when 17 died from noxious fumes that seeped from cracks.

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