Comoros

Comoros volcano eruption settles down - for now

By Ahmed Ali Amir
MORONI, May 30 (Reuters) - A volcano bubbling lava on the Indian Ocean island of Grande Comore has stabilised and poses no immediate threat, but may explode at a later date, experts say.

But many of the 300,000 people living in the shadow of Mount Karthla on the Comoros archipelago's biggest island remained tense on Tuesday and ready to evacuate if necessary.

"I'm not sleeping at night," said student Athoumane Bacar, 22. "My bags are packed and I'm watching that volcano the whole evening. If it blows, I'm ready to leave."

The 2,361 metre-high (7,750 ft) Karthala erupted late on Sunday, lighting up the night sky and frightening residents who feared molten rock could start shooting over its slopes.

An African Union force that stayed on the Comoros after overseeing this month's presidential elections flew scientists to the crater on Monday to investigate the risks.

One of them, Hamidou Nassor, told Reuters it was impossible to be sure what the volcano would do next, but that the lava seemed to be contained.

"We found a lake of lava in the crater that is being fed by a central fountain," he said late on Monday. "Happily, the crater does not appear to have any cracks. No overflow of lava has been detected, nor is one expected for the moment."

FUTURE RISK

But the scientists said the volcano could still explode.

"It is possible there could be an explosion, but we are far from that scenario right now. Or the lava could cool and the eruption stop," said Julie Morin, another volcanologist who also flew over the crater.

Morin added that the eruption had spewed gases across a 60 km sq zone. "We're awaiting instruments to analyse the nature of the gases," she said.

Poisonous gases seeping from cracks in the crater killed 17 people in 1903, in the volcano's biggest death toll on record.

Karthala last erupted in April 2005, forcing thousands to flee in fear of noxious fumes and lava flow, in its first eruption in over a decade.

Addressing his new government on Monday night, recently-elected President Ahmed Sambi called for calm during the eruption but urged citizens to be vigilant.

"There is nothing alarming for the moment," he said.

"I have activated a team to protect civilians. Any new information will be sent out on state radio."

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