Villages buried under thickest ashfall in 60 years as volcano erupts

Villages have been buried under a thick blanket of ash after one of Russia’s most active volcanoes erupted, triggering aviation warnings.

A vast plume of dust rose 20 kilometres into the air and turned the sky black over the far eastern Kamchatka peninsula.

The Shiveluch volcano rumbled to life just after midnight Tuesday and reached a crescendo about six hours later.

Ash spewed over an area of 108,000 square kilometres, according to the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Geophysical Survey.

Lava flows tumbled and melted snow, prompting a warning of mud flows along a nearby highway.

Villages were carpeted in drifts of grey ash as deep as 8.5 centimetres, the deepest in 60 years.

Pictures showed the cloud billowing over the forests and rivers of the far east and of villages covered in ash.

“The ash reached 20 kilometres high, the ash cloud moved westwards and there was a very strong fall of ash on nearby villages,” Danila Chebrov, director of the Kamchatka branch of the Geophysical Survey, said.

“The volcano was preparing for this for at least a year … and the process is continuing though it has calmed a little now,” Mr Chebrov said.

About 24 hours after the volcano began erupting a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Kamchatka, the geological survey said.

Russian scientists said the quake was an aftershock from an April 3 earthquake.

About 300,000 people live on Russia’s vast Kamchatka peninsula, which juts into the Pacific Ocean north-east of Japan.

The volcano, one of Kamchatka’s largest and most active, would probably calm now, Mr Chebrov said, although he cautioned that further major ash clouds could not be excluded.

Mr Chebrov said the lava flows should not reach local villages.

There were no immediate reports of casualties although scientists said the volcano was still erupting 15 hours after the start of the eruption.

Volcanic ash 8.5 centimetres deep – the thickest in 60 years – fell on nearby villages. Photo: AAP

The Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team issued a red notice for aviation, saying “ongoing activity could affect international and low-flying aircraft”.

Some schools on the peninsula, about 6800 kilometres east of Moscow, were closed and residents ordered to stay indoors, head of the Ust-Kamchatsky municipal region Oleg Bondarenko said in a Telegram post.

“Because what I have just seen here with my own eyes, it will be impossible for children to go to school and in general, the presence of children here is questionable,” Mr Bondarenko said.

He said residents’ power had been restored and drinking water was being supplied.

Shiveluch has had an estimated 60 substantial eruptions in the past 10,000 years, the last major one in 2007.

It has two main parts, the smaller of which – Young Shiveluch – scientists have reported as being extremely active in recent month. It has a peak of 2800 metres that protrudes out of the 3283 metre-high Old Shiveluch.

Topics: Russia
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