- The Kartala volcano on the island Grande Comore is at risk of an imminent eruption, according to seismic observations done in Comoros. The last time Mount Kartala erupted, in 1991, large damage was made to nearby villages. An anticipated eruption in 2003, however, failed to occur.
During the last week, the volcanological observatory on Grande Comore has observed "significant and abnormal" seismic activities at the Kartala volcano, according to reports by the French news agency AFP. Especially on 24 March, seismic activity and tremors had been very strong, raising immediate concerns of a possible eruption.
The observatory has however not published any emergency alert yet but geologists at the foot of Mount Kartala keep monitoring the situation closely. A possible alert by the geologist would spark similar evacuation plans as in August and September 2003, when tremors and an extensive bushfire caused false warnings of an eruption.
The southern and central parts of the Grande Comore - the main island of the Comoran archipelago - are considered to be most at risk, with the northern part of the island considered safe. The Kartala volcano is situated at the centre of the southern half of Grande Comore. The Comoran capital, Moroni, lies at the western slope of Mount Kartala and could be threatened by a large eruption.
Mount Kartala last erupted in July 1991. At that occasion, no persons were killed although tens of thousands of villagers had to flee their homes. Earth tremors had increased to about 100 a day shortly before the 1991 eruption - the same level reached in 2003. Current observations at the volcano had put the tremor frequency to 40 a day, thus being close to the observatory's alert threshold.
The volcano is known to erupt in a cycle of approximately 11 years, and is one of two active volcanoes on Grande Comore. 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.
With the historic periodicity of Kartala's activities, geologists expect a new eruption at any time. The government of Comoros and UN agencies in the archipelago have designed detailed plans for an evacuation of civilians in the case of a sudden eruption. Other emergency response plans also exist, but actions are complicated by the lack of precise information regarding the region's rural population.
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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