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Comoros volcano tremors grow stronger, more frequent

MORONI (Reuters) - Earth tremors from Comoros’ volcano Mount Karthala grew stronger and more frequent, residents said on Sunday, forcing thousands of nervous families to sleep outside overnight for fear their homes might collapse.

An aerial view shows lava spewing at the top of the 2,361 meter (7,746 ft) Mt. Karthala near Moroni, the capital of the Comoros Island, May 29, 2006. Earth tremors from Comoros' volcano Mount Karthala grew stronger and more frequent, residents said on Sunday, forcing thousands of nervous families to sleep outside overnight for fear their homes might collapse. REUTERS/Peter Paxton

The Indian Ocean archipelago’s largest island, Grand Comore, was put on red alert after Mount Karthala -- one of the world’s largest active volcanos -- began to glow red and emit suffocating fumes late on Friday.

The 2,361-meter (7,746-foot) Mount Karthala dominates Grand Comore, but its eruptions, which happen on average every 11 years, have rarely caused a major disaster.

But while lava levels inside the crater have subsided, earth tremors have become more frequent.

Hamidou Soule, a geologist who leads the Karthala surveillance center, said tremors were lasting up to five seconds and had reached five on the Richter scale.

“The lava and the gases remain trapped and are looking to crack through the mountain. It seems the main chimney is blocked,” he said. “The frequency of the tremors shows that a (lava) flow could happen in any part of the island.”

Residents said people were prepared to evacuate.

“The tremors get stronger and stronger every 15 minutes,” said Ibrahim Youssouf, a photographer from Mitsoudje village on the volcano’s southwestern slope. “A good number of people have packed their bags, ready to flee in case of eruption.”

Another resident from a village on the volcano’s western slope said high temperatures had made the air dry.

“It feels like everything will explode,” he said.

In the capital Moroni, thousands slept outside overnight and national radio broadcast appeals for calm and readings from the Koran across the mainly Muslim island.

“When I felt the tremor, I woke my wife and we stayed in the garden,” said resident Abderemane Koudre. “We thought the house was going to collapse. It was frightening.”

In 1903, 17 died from noxious fumes that seeped from cracks, and the last big eruption was in April 2005 when thousands fled in fear of poisonous gas and lava.

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