- Last weekend, Mount Karthala started spewing smoke, ash and lava, causing about 10,000 islanders on Grand Comore to flee their homes. Karthala is one of the world's largest active volcanoes. According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), villagers of the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros have now begun to return home as the eruption seams to have died out.
UNICEF representative in Comoros, Aloys Kamuragiye, in his latest update said that there was now much less ash observed from Mount Karthala's crater. "The lava is remaining confined in the crater. We had estimated 10,000 people displaced and now we are observing that most of the displaced people are coming back to their homes." UNICEF had been providing emergency materials such as health kits, the UN agency said.
So far, no deaths or injuries have been reported due to the eruption, although there are fears that water might be contaminated on Grand Comore, also called Ngazidja, the main island of the Union of the Comoros. Ashes from the eruption may also have caused damage to crops and pastures.
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, the government of Comoros and UN agencies had designed detailed plans for an evacuation of civilians in the case of a sudden eruption. UNICEF had provided logistical and technical support to the government and, beyond the emergency materials, will soon be distributing food supplies. "We have purchased 10 tons of rice which are now ready for distribution," Mr Kamuragiye said.
Mount Karthala forms most of the southern landmass of Grand Comore. The volcano is feared for its sudden eruptions, but also for its potential to explode totally during an eruption.
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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