Volcano contaminates water

2005-11-28 23:29

Moroni - Nearly 120 000 people on the main island of the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago have been left without safe drinking water after last week's eruption of the Mount Karthala volcano, an official said on Monday.

The Mount Karthala national observatory recommended that residents of Grand Comore observe caution as the 2 361m mountain continued to rumble.

Ash from the eruption blanketed the island on Thursday and Friday, killing at least one infant, infiltrating homes, shops and offices and contaminating water in cisterns during the height of the dry season.

"We have two problems with water: one, we are in the dry season and two, the reserves in many private cisterns are now polluted," minister of state for defence Abdu Madi Mari told AFP.

He said cistern water supplies for about 120 000 residents mainly from rural villages near the volcano had been contaminated by the ash, which has also raised fears of respiratory ailments.

Authorities on Grand Comore, the largest of the three semi-autonomous islands in the Comoros, had appealed for international assistance to help in distributing potable water to those in need, Mari said.

Thursday's volcanic eruption - the second this year - produced no lava flows but sent about 500 villagers fleeing from their homes in the shadow of the mountain.

Almost all have now returned.

"Seismic tremors are continuing," the Mount Karthala observatory said on Monday, adding that a lake of lava had formed inside the crater at the volcano's summit.

The eruption was of the "phreatic-magmatic" type caused by the pressure when boiling hot magma comes into contact with water and produces steam, the observatory said, adding that further releases of ash and dust were possible.

In April, nearly 10 000 villagers living at the base of the mountain fled their homes after ash sparked widespread fears of drinking water contamination among Grand Comore's 350 000 residents.

Mount Karthala last had a magma eruption in 1977, when lava destroyed the village of Singani, about 20km south of Moroni, and toxic gas was released into the air but did not cause any deaths.