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Thousands Flee New Indian Ocean Eruption

Agence France-Presse - MORONI, April 18 (AFP) - Thousands of villagers living nearthe Mount Karthala volcano on the main island of GrandComore in the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago have fledtheir homes after it erupted, officials said Monday."Almost 10,000 people have left their houses since Sunday"when the volcano erupted, Dini Nassuri, spokesman for theisland's government, told Agence France-Presse.

Villagers who had fled in panic from their homes in theshadow of the 2,361-meter (7,746-foot) volcano stayed awayfrom their homes but calm had largely returned to the areaby late morning, officials and witnesses said.

Two vulcanologists from the Saint Denis University on theFrench Indian Ocean island of Reunion are due to arriveTuesday to evaluate the situation following the eruption,the volcano observatory on Reunion said.

They will fly over Mount Karthala and take samples of ashfrom the lava lake that has formed, observatory directorPhilippe Kovalski said.

White ash from the volcano blanketed parts of Grand ComoreMonday, causing respiratory problems for residents whosought out masks to protect themselves from the debris.

But officials said there was no imminent threat from lavafrom the eruption and that there was little risk of thevolcano emitting toxic gas as had been initially feared.

Sunday's eruption followed recent signs of increased seismicactivity around Mount Karthala that were first reported inlate March by experts at the Comoros National Center forDocumentation and Scientific Research (CNDRS).

The volcano last had a magma eruption in 1977. The ComorosIslands are near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

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