Reunion sees 'colossal' volcano eruption, but population safe

Sat Apr 7, 10:43 AM ET

SAINT-DENIS-DE-LA-REUNION (AFP) - A volcano on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion has spewed massive lava flow and tossed magma as high as skyscrapers, but residents were not in danger, officials said Saturday.

"It's not a volcano any more. It's a monster," one resident said.

The so-called Piton de la Fournaise volcano in eastern Reunion, a French overseas department, has been erupting for about a week. Tourists and residents have been able to take in the impressive sights since residential areas have not been threatened.

On Friday, about 100 residents were evacuated from a village in southeastern Reunion, with some believing they could see lava approaching.

They were allowed to return to their homes two hours later, however. What was believed to be lava turned out to be a forest fire caused by projections of burning ashes.

Some residents have decided to leave their homes anyway out of fear of what could happen. Eight houses were destroyed by lava flow in March 1986.

The eruption showed signs of weakening Saturday, though it remained active. A thin coating of ash covered several neighborhoods in the eastern area of Saint-Andre.

"It could last several more days, but not weeks," said Thomas Staudacher, director of the island's Volcano Observatory.

Staudacher called the lava flow "colossal" and estimated it at three million cubic metres (four million cubic yards) per day.

Lava flows, which have cut off a national highway, have traveled at 60 kilometres (38 miles) per hour, and magma has been projected 200 metres (656 feet) high.

Lava has flown toward the sea, producing clouds of volcanic gas when making contact with water that has enveloped many areas of the island. But sulphur dioxyde levels in the gas have not been measured at dangerous levels.


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