Mount Tongariro Erupts In New Zealand
August 7, 2012

New Zealand’s Mount Tongariro Volcano Erupts

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A long-dormant New Zealand volcano erupted on Monday, spewing an ash cloud that disrupted flights and closed highways.

The Mount Tongariro volcano located in the middle of the North Island erupted for the first time after lying dormant for more than a century. The last activity the volcano had shown at the site was in 1897, officials said.

Witnesses in the area reported seeing "flame-like explosions and a cloud of ash coming from a new hole in the side of the mountain."

"There were rocks being thrown out. It was like thunder and lightning and fireworks. It was spectacular," local resident David Bennett told Fairfax Media.

Officials said the explosion did not result in any lava flows, but sent a cloud of ash 20,000 feet into the atmosphere.

Later in the day, Civil Defense officials said the immediate threat had passed, but that another eruption could take place at Tongariro "at any time with little or no warning."

"Civil Defense and others will continue to monitor the situation and if we believe it presents more significant risks then obviously we'll make sure that everyone's well and truly notified of that," Prime Minister John Key told reporters.

Volcanologists said the eruption took them by surprise, because the mountain showed little or no seismic activity.

"This eruption caught us by surprise. We've been monitoring the area after earthquakes, but we didn't expect this," GNS Science volcanologist Michael Rosenberg told TVNZ. "This might just be a quiet period and we should expect it to start again at any time. So we are watching things very closely."

The Department of Conservation said three hikers were camped out on the opposite side of Mount Tongariro, but they were able to escape without harm.

Rangipo farmer Dave Allen told AFP about how the volcano's eruption woke him.

"It was an amazing sight,(but) I didn't hang around to see how beautiful it was going to get in case it all came flying down the mountain on top of us," he told AFP. "We turned all the power off and grabbed a couple of neighbors and their kids and went off to a meeting point."

The volcano caused air traffic disruptions for flights heading to Gisborne, Rotorua, Taupo, Napier and Palmerston North. International flights were not affected by the eruption because they fly above 20,000 feet.

The area the volcano is located in was used as a backdrop for the Mount Doom sequences in "The Lord of the Rings" movies.