Authorities in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas are warning aircraft to stay clear of the smoke and ash produced by a volcanic eruption. Government observers say it is the first recorded eruption of a volcano that had been considered extinct on the uninhabited island of Anatahan. The island is part of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas in the western Pacific.
By Monday, the eruption was settling into a low-level plume of steam and light ash. Witnesses who saw the first signs of eruption early Sunday morning say it was like watching a naval battle. One scientific observer says smoke and ash billowed nearly six kilometers into the sky.
Meteorologists say there is little danger to the residents of the rest of the Marianas Islands and the territory of Guam, about 320 kilometers to the south.
Paul Hatton, of the U.S. Geological Survey office in Guam, says there was no major seismic activity following the eruption. He says ash from the eruption is now being carried by winds from the east. "So it's moving to the west in the general direction of the Philippines but with the wind circulation it may veer to the north up toward Japan and then back east again," he says.
Marianas Governor Juan Babauta has barred most civilians, including fishermen and pilots, from approaching Anatahan. He is working with the federal Emergency Management Office in Saipan.
Anatahan is a small island, just 33 square kilometers. Like all of the islands north of Saipan, it is volcanic. The entire Marianas chain and the island of Guam sit atop one of the most geologically active zones in the world. The islands are prone to earthquakes, and in 1981, a volcano eruption left another island in the chain uninhabitable.