'Apocalypse' at summit of Reunion's volcano

10th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

SAINT-DENIS-DE-LA-REUNION, France, April 9, 2007 (AFP) - A first expedition to the summit of Reunion's giant volcano that collapsed following a massive eruption more than a week ago described the scene as apocalyptic on Monday.

SAINT-DENIS-DE-LA-REUNION, France, April 9, 2007 (AFP) - A first expedition to the summit of Reunion's giant volcano that collapsed following a massive eruption more than a week ago described the scene as apocalyptic on Monday.

"It is truly the apocalypse," Alain Mussard, a film-maker and member of the first expedition to the summit since the volcano erupted on March 31.

"The first feeling on site is fear. In front of this 300-metre (984-foot) abyss your reflex is to pull back but you end up getting used to it," he added.

Experts have dubbed the blow up of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano on eastern Reunion, a French overseas department, the "eruption of the century" after 200-metre spouts of lava have been viewed over the past 11 days.

"For the Piton de la Fournaise, these ejecta are exceptional. On Reunion, fountains of lava have not reached these heights in the recent past," Alexandre Nercessian, a seismologist at the island's Volcano Observatory, told AFP, adding however that volcanos elsewhere have been known to spew lava as high as 500 metres into the air.

The 800-metre-wide plateau inside the Dolomieu crater plunged 300 metres during the eruption, bringing down about 50 million cubic metres of rocks and gravel, according to preliminary estimates.

Mussard's expedition was allowed to approach one of the volcano's two summits after the eruptions began to lull on Sunday.

"At 30 to 40 metres from the crater, crumbling continued to happen underground on Sunday. We really had to be careful," Mussard said.

Monday morning, the volcano was still spewing lava between 25 and 30 metres into the air, but island administrators said the worst appeared to be over.

Nercessian agreed that the volcano seemed to be simmering down, but called for continued vigilance.

"At the observatory we are still registering seismic activity under Dolomieu and tremors, which indicate that the magma is still in circulation," he warned.

A group of scientists meanwhile discovered hundreds of fish, all of an unknown species on the island, floating belly-up in the ocean, likely as a result of the molten lava that has been pouring into the sea.

"It's crazy. We've never seen this with previous eruptions," Alain Barrere, a scientific advisor to the Volcano House.

Along with two scientists working for Reunion's aquarium, he collected specimens of the dead fish, which have bulging eyes, heads sometimes protracted by a beak and appear to have surfaced from depths of around 500 metres, according to the researchers.

Barrere said he hoped the specimens would help them determine "where they came from and how they died."

Locals, tourists and volcano enthusiasts meanwhile continued to float to places where they could view the activity, although at a safe distance of at least three kilometres (1.9 miles) from the lava flow.

Last week spectators had come within metres of the molten fluid.

Some people with memories of damage caused by previous eruptions were not enjoying the show. Eight houses were destroyed by lava in 1986.

About 100 residents were evacuated from a village in southeastern Reunion on Friday, 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 burning ashes.

Despite the fact that everyone has been allowed to return home, the island remains on high alert, local authorities said.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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