TORONTO – A volcano has erupted on a tiny island off the coast of Yemen, spewing lava and ash hundreds of feet into the air, a Canadian naval vessel near the island in the Red Sea reported Sunday. There were no immediate reports of deaths, but at least eight people were missing.
The Yemeni government asked NATO to assist in searching for survivors on Jabal al-Tair island, which lacks a settled population but includes military installations.
The Yemeni news agency SABA confirmed the eruption and said a military garrison on the island is being evacuated. It wasn't clear how many people were stationed on the island, which is used for naval control and observation because large cargo ships pass nearby.
Ken Allan, a Navy spokesman, said a NATO fleet just outside the territorial waters of the island reported seeing a "catastrophic volcanic eruption" at 7 p.m. local time. The two-mile-long island is about 70 miles off the coast of Yemen.
"At this time, the entire island is aglow with lava and magma as it pours down into the sea. We do not have confirmation of how many people were on this island at the time of the eruption," Allan said in an e-mail.
"The lava is spewing hundreds of feet into the air, with the volcanic ash also (rising) a thousand feet in the air," Allan said.
The Canadian Armed Forces said they are trying to locate nine people believed to be at sea after the Yemen coast guard requested help. SABA reported that the Yemeni government said eight people were missing. It is unclear why there was a discrepancy or if the reports were even talking about the same people.
The NATO fleet was sailing toward the Suez Canal when it spotted the eruption. The government of Yemen asked NATO to assist in the search for survivors and the closet ship, the HMCS Toronto, is heading toward the island.
Yemen is a poor tribal Sunni Muslim country at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.