Volcano erupts in New Zealand


Mount Tongariro, a volcano in New Zealand's north island, erupted for the first time in 115 years, creating an ash cloud that closed roads and disrupted regional air travel before moving off the coast.

The eruption was reported by a member of the public about 11.50pm local time last night, New Zealand Police said in an e-mailed statement.

Government scientists are monitoring the event, which they said was driven by steam rather than magma, and can't rule out further explosions. "I wouldn't be surprised if there were more small-scale eruptions," Brad Scott, a volcanologist at GNS Science, a government agency, told reporters at a televised news conference.

Ash fell to a depth of as much as 15mm and was drifting east, he said.

Tongariro is one of three volcanoes in the middle of the north island, about 340 km north of the capital city Wellington.

It lies just to the north of Mount Ngauruhoe, which was used by film director Peter Jackson to depict Mount Doom in his movie trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" novels.

There were no reports of damage or injuries, the ministry of civil defence and emergency management said in a statement.

The ministry lifted a potential threat notice for the area in the early afternoon, based on GNS Science advice that eruption activity had subsided, according to its website.

No evacuations were ordered although some people did briefly leave their homes voluntarily, the ministry said.

Residents are being urged to check water supplies for ash contamination. Hiking tracks and huts around the mountain are closed.

An ash cloud extending as high as 12 km formed after the eruption, and moved quickly east, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said in an e-mailed statement, citing satellite imagery.

The cloud had blown off the coast by late afternoon, it said. Air New Zealand, the nation's biggest carrier, resumed flights to most regional airports east of Tongariro after cancelling services earlier because of the risk from the ash, it said in a statement on its website.