- Mount Karthala on Grand Comore this morning began spewing smoke and ash, giving locals on Comoros' main island time to prepare for a possible disaster. As lava started flowing from the volcano this afternoon, more than 10,000 islanders had already been evacuated.
Mount Karthala is one of two active volcanoes on Grand Comore and the last time it erupted was in 1991. Then, it caused large damages to nearby villages. Locals are well aware of the potential dangers of an eruption of the 2361-meter high landmark.
According to Comoran authorities, an evacuation was immediately effectuated as the volcano showed clear signs of a coming eruption. Karthala had started spewing dark smoke and large amounts of ash early this morning, visible all over the Indian Ocean island. Geologists in an observatory at the foot of Mount Karthala agreed that an evacuation was advisable.
During the day, thousands of islanders left their villages at the slope of the volcano. Comoran authorities, guided by the geologists, aided in the evacuation of those villages most at risk during an eruption. The government assesses that over 10,000 persons had left their homes by this afternoon, when lava started flowing from the volcano.
It remains uncertain whether the eruption already has caused damages to persons and property and whether the lava flow is threatening any major settlement. According to the geological observatory, however, the volcano already has spewed out large quantities of ashes and sand-like particles, which has been raining over several villages. This is bound to cause large damages to crops and pastures on the island.
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.
With the historic periodicity of Karthala's eruptions, geologists had expected a new blow-out 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.
Since the middle of March, the geologists had registered an increased seismic activity at Mount Karthala. Especially on 24 March, seismic activity and tremors had been very strong, raising immediate concerns of a possible eruption. No evacuation warning was however given, as was the case in 2003, when activities were even stronger but the volcano failed to erupt.
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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