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South Seas Volcano Rumbles in Vanuatu October 23, 2009
Mount Garat
Aerial view of Mount Garat during more quiet times.
Geologists in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu raised the alert status for the volcano on Gaua due to a surge in activity over the past two weeks.

Some living near rumbling Mount Garat report ash has been falling on their crops and the smell of sulfur is strong in the air.

Gaua residents have been warned that rivers flowing down the flanks of the volcano may contain hazardous material and that there is a potential for mudslides.

Gaua rises about 9,800 feet from the sea floor. Steaming Hill Lake, a crescent-shaped crater lake, is just below Mt. Garat, which is a secondary cone and current summit of the stratovolcano.

There have been at least 13 eruptions at Mt. Garat since 1963, with the most recent lasting less than one day in 1982.

The Vanuatu Geohazards Observatory says that most of the historic eruptions have lasted only 1-2 days with the 1963 and 1973-1974 eruptions lasting a few months.

The greatest danger posed to the residents of Gaua has been from volcanic gases, which can reach hazardous levels around the crater lake.

Gaua Island lies at the northern extreme of the seismically active Vanuatu Archipelago. A sharp earthquake centered just west of the capital of Port Vila on June 3 damaged several buildings and a water supply system.

Photo: Vanuatu Geohazards Observatory