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Islanders flee as volcano erupts

More volcanic activity in the Far East...

MORONI (Reuters) - A volcano erupted on the Indian Ocean Comoros islands on Sunday, forcing hundredsof villagers to flee in fear of poison gas as the crater spewed ash and flung boulders over molten lava,witnesses said.

Darkness enveloped homes near the summit of Mount Karthala as black rain pounded the mountainside,sparking panic among residents afraid of the kind of noxious fumes that seeped from the volcano a centuryago, killing 17 people.

"Villagers are in total darkness, gritty rain is falling and visibility is zero," a resident from the village ofIdjinkoundzi on the western flank of Mount Karthala, who gave his name as Charif, told Reuters by telephone.

The 2,361-metre (7,746-ft) Mount Karthala and its forested slopes form most of the land mass of GrandeComore, the main island in the Comoros chain which lies 300 km (190 miles) off east Africa, and which haswitnessed periodic eruptions.

Jean Marc, a pilot with Comoros Aviation, who flew over the summit, said: "I saw the start of a lava flow, butfor the moment it's confined to the inside of the volcano."

Families from the villages of Trelezini and Tsorale piled into taxis and buses and headed for the capitalMoroni, which lies on the west coast of Grande Comore, about 15 km (9 miles) from Karthala's crater, whichtowers above the Indian Ocean.

"Dust is still falling, with torrential rains and high winds sweeping across the region," said Ibrahim Youssouf,a resident in the town of Fomboni on the southeastern coast of Grande Comore who visited the scene.

Defence Minister Houmed Msaidie warned residents to avoid the area to avoid the risk of exposure todangerous gases.

Story compliments of Signs of the Times