21 July 2007

East Africa: Oldonyo Lengai Volcano Erupts

Nairobi — Oldonyo Lengai mountain in Tanzania has finally erupted. This brings to an end the numerous earth tremors that have hit East Africa for the past week. The seismic waves responsible for the movements emanated from this point.

The powerful eruptions that occurred on Thursday from 10pm will, according to experts, reduce the underground activity that was responsible for the tremors. It will also restore calm in the region that had for the last one week been engulfed in fear and anxiety.

Three days ago, some Nairobi residents spent the night in the cold as they awaited a major eruption that never occurred.

So intense were the fears, that it took Internal Security minister, Mr John Michuki's efforts to calm the restless nation.

But on Thursday, thousands of Maasai herdsmen living around the area vacated their homes in the wake of a trail of the eruptions, that left two children injured and a school damaged.

School children were scalded

Media reports in Tanzania indicated that the molten lava spewing from the crater scalded two school children.

The activity also damaged a 300-capacity Meigoi Primary school around the area. But no deaths were reported. Experts said people in the area that experienced the tremors can now smile and thank God for the eruption as the tremors are for gone now.

Dr Eliud Mathu, head of Geology Department at the University of Nairobi, noted that the lava emanating from the mountain was not very hot. He added that the gases are not poisonous enough to affect residents.

"It is a sigh of relief and we can now thank God that all is well," Mathu told the Saturday Standard by telephone.

Mathu said the lava, which recorded heat of 510 degrees centigrade is 'relatively cool' compared to the hottest, which is normally 1,100 degrees centigrade.

According to reports in the "Guardian" of Tanzania, more than 1,500 people, most of them Maasai families, vacated their homes in Ngaresero, Orbalal and Nayobi villages following the tremors that triggered the volcanic eruption.

Tourists told to keep off the area

Villagers are reported to have heard roaring on the rugged geographic feature they call 'Mountain of God' before the volcano started discharging ash and lava.

Tanzanian authorities have since warned tourists to keep off the area for security reasons. Mathu concurred, saying the area should be avoided until after two weeks when the lava will have cooled.

The mountain is the world's only active volcano that emits natrocarbonatite lava, which Mathu said has got no capability to flow further than about two kilometers from the mountain.

This kind of lava, which almost contains no silicon, is also much cooler in temperature compared to other emissions, he said.

Mount Oldonyo Lengai is 3,450 metres above sea level and is located south of Lake Natron on the Tanzania-Kenya border.

According to an official at the Kenya Meteorological Department, Mr Samuel Mwangi, the eruptions normally throw volcanic ash into the environment, which causes pollution.

"The pollution changes the characteristics of the atmosphere making the air very dirty," said Mwangi.

Mt Etna, on the Italian island of Sicily, is said to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

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