One of Russia’s most active volcanoes has erupted on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, spewing ash far into the sky, smothering villages in drifts of grey volcanic dust and triggering an aviation warning.
The Shiveluch volcano erupted just after midnight on Tuesday, reaching a crescendo about six hours later and spewing out an ash cloud over an area of 108,000sq km (41,700sq miles), according to the Kamchatka branch of the Geophysical Survey of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
“The ash reached 20km (12.5 miles) high,” said Danila Chebrov, branch director. “The ash cloud moved westwards, and there was a very strong fall of ash on nearby villages.”
About 24 hours after the volcano began erupting, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck off the coast of Kamchatka, the Geological Survey said. Russian scientists said the quake was an aftershock from an April 3 earthquake.
Lava flowed from the volcano, melting snow and prompting a warning of mud flows along a nearby highway. Villages were carpeted in drifts of grey ash as deep as 8.5cm (3.3 inches), the deepest in 60 years.
Footage published by officials showed a huge wall of ash rising above snowy forests and rivers.
The eruption posed a potential risk to flights and paralysed several villages. Volcanologists issued a code red warning for flights, and Russia’s aviation authority, Rosaviatsia, urged crews to “constantly monitor changes in meteorological information”.
According to the Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team, which monitors eruptions in the region, Shiveluch is 60,000 to 70,000 years old and is one of the largest volcanoes in Kamchatka.
There were no immediate reports of casualties although scientists said the volcano was still erupting 15 hours after it had initially sprang back to life.
The governor of Kamchatka, Vladimir Solodov, said three villages – Kliuchy, Kozyrevsk and Mayskoye – were the worst affected. He urged people there to stay at home and said schools had been closed.
The remote rural villages lie on the Kamchatka River on the eastern side of the peninsula.
“As much as possible, stay at home,” Solodov said on Telegram. “We are waiting for the forecasts of volcanologists monitoring the eruption to assess how long the ashfall will last.”
He said schools would switch to remote classes “for the duration of the aftermath of the disaster”.
Solodov said there were “some problems with water supply” and the authorities were delivering bottled water.
He said health officials had “gone into every house, every apartment” in the villages to check on residents.