A volcano spewed ash and dark smoke on the main island of the Comoros archipelago (search) on Sunday, sending hundreds of people fleeing from their homes at the urging of the government, a U.N. official said.
The 7,746-foot Mount Karthala (search), one of two active volcanoes on Grand Comore (search), last erupted in July 1991. No one was killed then, but tens of thousands of villagers left their homes. The volcano is known to erupt every 11 years.
"We know that there is risk of eruption," said Giuseppina Mazza, head of the U.N. team in the Indian Ocean archipelago. "There has been some ash and this has terrified villagers because it is a big cloud of ash."
Officials urged residents to leave eastern parts of Grand Comore island and mobilized trucks to help, Mazza said by telephone from Moroni, capital of Grand Comore, largest of the three-island chain.
"But there is no eruption as yet. Some magma is visible inside the volcano crater," he said.
The volcano has the world's largest volcanic basin — an attraction for hikers.
Officials in Comoros, some 200 miles east of Africa and northwest of Madagascar, have set up an emergency team to monitor and coordinate a response to the situation, Mazza said.
Comoros, a three-island republic, is one of the world's poorest countries.