Mt Tongariro eruption: Latest updates

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The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management says the threat from Mt Tongariro has passed, after it erupted last night.

However, it was too early to predict the next series of events, and GNS Science expected heightened activity could continue for several weeks.



  • Mt Tongariro erupted at 11.50pm last night, hurling rocks up to 1km.


  • Ash cloud drifting to the east of Tongariro, landing as far as Napier city


  • SH1 and SH46 have reopened. Flights to and from Napier cancelled, while other North Island services have been delayed.


  •  GNS: It was a hydrothermal-driven eruption, rather the magmatic


  •  It was the first eruption in more than a century


  • Turoa and Whakapapa skifields remain open

This afternoon the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management cancelled its national advisory, after latest information from GNS Science said eruption activity had subsided.

GNS Science also downgraded its aviation colour code from red to orange shortly after midday today.

12.51am Scientists say there could be more eruptions at Mt Tongariro, after last night's explosion - the first there for more than a century - spewed rock from the volcano in a 1km radius.

Residents were this morning urged to check their water supply after last night's event created an ash cloud that forced the cancellation of flights and closure of roads. The cloud is drifting east and ash has fallen as far east as Napier.

Residents around the Lake Rotoaira area were evacuated from their homes to Hirangi marae near Turangi.

Bay of Plenty police operations commander Brent Crowe said a contingency plan was in place for prisoners at Rangipo Prison although this did not have to be activated.

Mr Peet said facilities around Mt Tongariro were currently closed for public use and he suggested trampers make use of the Whakapapa and Ohakune ends of the mountain.

"Over the next 24 to 36 hours we will make a series of risk assessments about the appropriate time to reopen the facilities."

The Department of Conservation has evacuated huts on the mountain. There have been no reports of injuries or damage but residents with respiratory problems have been told to consider staying inside.

The eruption was reported to police just before midnight by a member of the public who reported seeing explosions on the northern face of the mountain.

The witness told police the eruption had created "a new hole in the side of the mountain".

New Zealand Herald reporter Jamie Morton said the ash this morning on SH 46 at Lake Rotoaira, just north of Tongariro, was a "thick, clay-like mud", about half a centimetre thick.

"It's just carpeted everything, all the fields, cars, trees - the whole landscape looks quite murky and grey," he said.

"Roofs in this area, they're all absolutely coated in this ash."

GNS volcanologist Brad Scott said the eruption began from Te Mari crater at the north end of Mt Tongariro at 11.50pm.

An earthquake lasting about five minutes accompanied the eruption and residents reported hearing explosions.

"When they went outside to have a look they saw the volcano starting to erupt. They saw incandescent blocks - glowing hot blocks - and they saw an eruption column being developed and within about five minutes they were experiencing a light local ash fall," Mr Scott told Radio New Zealand.

David Bennett, who lives on the southern shores of Lake Rotoaira, about 6km from the eruption, said he saw ash spewing from Mt Tongariro.

"[I saw] just a big cloud heading straight up from the crater, thunder and lightning from in the cloud, and then there was a smaller cloud drifting northward, lasted I suppose about half an hour and then the dust cloud headed over towards the east."

He knew what was happening straight away and kicked an evacuation plan into action.

While his wife checked on his parents, he went and checked his neighbours were awake.

"Because wind was blowing the other way, we just waited here."

When he got closer to the mountain this morning he said it looked like another crater had blown open.

Anne Lambert, who owns the Rainbow Motel, about 4km from Turangi, said she got out of bed after hearing a loud noise about midnight.

"I heard this loud rumble, like a big lot of trucks coming by, but it didn't go away."

As she looked out from a second-storey deck she could see a large plume of smoke sitting in the middle of the volcano, with sparks coming out of it.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

The explosions were heard as far away as Gisborne.

One Hexton resident said: "The pheasants started crowing away and I thought an earthquake was coming next. They always do that when there is going to be an earthquake.

"Then the dogs started howling and I thought it might be a big one. I heard three massive explosions. It was boom, boom, boom, and then it sounded like a stock rolling flat-out down a hill. It was unbelievable."

Mr Scott said GNS had been aware of activity at Mt Tongariro for a few weeks, "but to be honest we didn't see anything in the latest data up until last night that indicated it was ready to erupt", Mr Scott said.

And he said there was likely to be further activity.

"There's not showing any escalation - the earthquake activity hasn't increased or anything like that - but we would probably anticipate some more activity now that the craters have broken through."

Mr Scott told a press conference this morning the eruption was driven by steam, rather than molten lava rising to the surface.

"We've had a small-scale volcanic eruption. It appears to be driven in the hydrothermal rather than the magmatic process, there's been an ash plume, there's been ash-fall down wind."

Mr Scott described last night's eruption as "small scale", but he said he would not be surprised if there were more similar eruptions to come.

Brent Crowe of Bay of Plenty police told the press conference ash and rock was ejected over a 1km radius.

Police closed State Highway 1 and State Highway 46 as a precautionary matter overnight but they had since reopened.

The police focus remained on public safety and he said they expected the situation to stabilise.

The wider community's health was not currently at risk, and earlier warnings to remain indoors with closed doors and windows had been lifted.

"At this time the only risk is minimal and would only be to people in the local vicinity of the eruption who have a predisposition to respiratory issues," police said in a statement.

Locals in the area were urged to check their water to supply to ensure it had not been contaminated.

Nic Peet of the Department of Conservation said DOC would be taking a precautionary approach to opening facilities around Tongariro.

The Tongariro Crossing and its four huts were currently closed.

Mr Peet said there was no records kept of how many people were up on Mt Tongariro last night.

Three people were this morning evacuated from the Mangatepopo Hut, he said.

Air New Zealand has cancelled all flights to and from Hawkes Bay airport but skifields on neighbouring Mt Ruapehu are operating as normal.

Federated Farmers said initial reports indicated the eruption had little impact on farm pasture or stock drinking water.

int agency incident management centre has been established at the Whakapapa Department of Conservation Visitor Centre.

Mt Tongariro last erupted between 1896 and 1897.

11.02am - Tongariro could explode more violently or fall into a pattern of volcanic events lasting weeks, months or even years, experts say.

Auckland University volcanologist Phil Shane said the small eruption this morning could signal the start of a pattern of explosions at the central North Island mountain.

He drew a comparison to the Caribbean volcano Montserrat, which rumbled to life in 1995 and has continued to erupt until today.

A more violent eruption in the coming days or a drop off in all volcanic activity was also possible, Associate Professor Shane said.

"We don't know how long it could go. It could be a one off or it could go weeks, months years or even a decade."

10.53am - Brad Scott of GNS has said the eruption was a steam-driven eruption, which came from the hydrothermal system rather than from new molten lava coming to the surface.

A fly-over the mountain confirmed it was a steam plume only and there was no discolouration of the plume.

This indicated that there was no change in volcanic ash or gas levels.

"We were unable to see the impact immediately around the craters so we still can't confirm just which crater the eruptions occurred from,'' he said.

"We've had a small-scale volcanic eruption. It appears to be driven in the hydrothermal rather than the magmatic process, there's been an ash plume, there's been ash-fall down wind.''

10.43am - Brad Scott of GNS tells a press conference it was just a coincidence that White Island and Mt Tongariro erupted within the same week. The weather was at its best this morning to conduct a fly-over, and it was now working against scientists to get up in a helicopter to observe the mountain.   10.42am - Brad Scott of GNS Science told reporters it had not detected any increased activity in the 12-14 hours before the eruption.

Similarly, there had not been any action since the eruption.

Changes in volcanic gas levels had been recorded in the past few weeks, but there was not any significant increase leading into the eruption.

A flyover of the mountain this morning revealed a steam plume coming from the mountain but there was no indication of volcanic ash this morning.

Scientists were unable to see the immediate impact of the eruption on the mountain because of bad weather and low cloud.

Mr Scott described it as a "small scale eruption''.

It was a hypothermal-type eruption.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there was some small hypothermal-driven eruptions."

10.33am - The Gisborne Herald has filed this account of the impact of the eruption felt in Gisborne.

In Gisborne in the Hexton area, a Kawatere Road resident was outside on the way to his shed to turn on a hot water cylinder when the volcano erupted hundreds of kilometres away.

He had been watching sport on television and went to the shed to turn on the cylinder in preparation to home-kill two pigs today.

"The pheasants started crowing away and I thought an earthquake was coming next. They always do that when there is going to be an earthquake.

"Then the dogs started howling and I thought it might be a big one. I heard three massive explosions. It was boom, boom, boom, and then it sounded like a stock rolling flat-out down a hill. It was unbelievable.''

When he got into bed his wife said she had woken to the sound of rattling windows.

"I told her it sounded like the South Island had just dropped off.'"

A few other people reported waking to the sound of rattling windows thinking an earthquake had just happened.

10.32am - Nic Peet of the Department of Conservation told reporters that DOC would be taking a precautionary approach to opening facilities around Tongariro.

The Tongariro Crossing and its four huts were currently closed.

At this stage, the department's facilities around Tongariro were affected by the eruption, but the ski fields on Mt Ruapehu were not affected and were open for operation.

10.29am - Civil Defence has warned Hawkes Bay residents that a fine ash fallout from the eruption of Mt Tongariro could pose a health hazard despite current clear skies.

A layer of ash approximately 1mm in depth has come to ground inland from Napier and northeast into the Wairoa area. There is a noticeable sulphuric smell in the air around Napier-Hastings, advised by Taradale and Havelock North people.

Civil Defence said air quality reporting also showed increased levels of PM10 particulate matter readings at all three air monitoring stations in Awatoto, Marewa Park (Napier) and St Johns (Hastings).

Hawkes Bay CDEM group controller Ian Macdonald asked schools, childcare centres and businesses to use commonsense, given the current clear skies. Unless ash was falling it was safe to be outside, he said.

10.26am - Brent Crowe of the Bay of Plenty police has just told a press conference that ash and rock was ejected from the volcano in a 1km radius.

Police closed State Highway 1 and State Highway 46 as a precautionary matter overnight but they had since reopened.

Police say their focus at the moment is public safety and reassurance.

Tuwharetoa has moved some at-risk residents. About 24 people were moved to a Turangi Marae about 12.30am.

Three Department of Conservation huts on Mt Tongariro were currently being cleared.

All locals residents were urged to remain calm and check water supplied to make sure they were not contaminated.

10.24am - Air New Zealand has announced all flights in and out of Hawkes Bay airport are cancelled today due to the ash cloud from the Mt Tongariro eruption.

10.23am - Commentators took to TradeMe's discussion board to talk about the overnight eruption. Pommie74 said: "It stinks of sulphur here in Napier and we have ash on the car."   10.12am - Skifields on Mount Ruapehu were open this morning, with operators saying the eruption of Mt Tongariro posed no threat to the Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas.

The volcanic vents on Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu were independent of each other and there was no reason or indication of volcanic activity on Ruapehu, a Mt Ruapehu spokesman said.

"The Te Mari crater where the eruption occurred is at least 20km away from the ski area."

The ash was blowing to the east, away from the skifields.

10.08am - New Zealand and Hawke's Bay Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills is with Ministry of Primary Industries staff in Auckland monitoring the impact of the Mt Tongariro eruption this morning.

"I've spoken to my regional representatives around central North Island and at this stage the ash falling doesn't seem to be a major problem.

"Information on the GNS website says the ash is about 20,000 feet so we are hoping we can sneak under that cloud, and the ash blow out to sea."

Mr Wills, from Te Pohue, said he had phoned family at his northern Hawke's Bay property this morning to see if there was any ash visible.

"They say they're ok. But we are watching the situation carefully because if there is a likelihood of a lot of ash falling on pasture in areas, that could mean some animal health issues for farmers."

9.14am - New Zealand Herald reporter Jamie Morton said the ash this morning on SH46 at Lake Rotoaira, just north of Tongariro is a "thick, clay-like mud", about half a centimetre thick.

"It's just carpeted everything, all the fields, cars, trees - the whole landscape looks quite murky and grey," he said.

"Roofs in this area, they're all absolutely coated in this ash."<inline type="photogallery" id="13835" align="outside" embed="no" />

Contractors are currently sweeping the ash from State Highway 46, Mr Morton said.

"There is also quite a noticeable smell ... quite a murky smell. We've had reports in Waiouru that there is a sulphur-like smell in the area. That is not the case here."

Weather conditions about the Central Plateau are overcast, and the summit of Tongariro is not visible, he said.

8:48am - an image from the Tongariro eruption

8.45am - Hawkes Bay Civil Defence manager Ian MacDonald told Firstline the ashfall varies across the region, with the worst of it west of Napier and north of Hawke's Bay about Wairoa.

Mr MacDonald said people in the affected areas should stay indoors and limit their driving.

Do not use your windscreen wipers if there is ash on your window.

He said people on tank water supply should disconnect their water tank from the roof, and hose down their roof before reconnecting.

Mr MacDonald said people should be prepared for possible power outages.

8.03am - Air New Zealand said flights to and from airports east of Mount Tongariro, including Gisborne, Rotorua, Taupo, Napier and Palmerston North, may be delayed or cancelled as a result of the eruption. Captain David Morgan, Air New Zealand general manager airline operations and safety and chief pilot, said the airline is working with the relevant authorities to make adjustments to flight routes to ensure aircraft remain clear of any ash.

"We will not fly through ash and are constantly taking guidance from the CAA and the MetService to ensure we can continue to carry passengers where safe routes and altitudes are available." Passengers are advised to check the Air New Zealand website for flight arrivals and departures information.

7.58am - 7.58am - SH1 and SH46 have now reopened.

7.37am - Civil defence spokesman Vince Cholewa told NewstalkZB ash could reach those living in Waikato, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.

"The advice to people is to stay indoors, because volcanic ash can obviously be a health hazard, if they're indoors please close windows and doors to try and limit the entry of ash."

Mr Cholewa says at this stage not all areas alerted are affected by ash, but that situation could change.

"We're working actively with GNS Science who operate the monitoring equipment on the mountains, and with police so all the information from the ground is being gathered, and decisions will be based on that information.

"Evacuations have not been ordered, please listen to the radio for advice from local authorities and police, any evacuations would be issued at that level, and based on the evidence from GNS Science."

7.25am - Turoa Ski Area manager Chris Thrupp told Firstline the ski field remains open and has not been advised to close.

He said the ash has not drifted to Ruapehu, south of Tongariro.

"The ash is the concern - if the wind changes, which we don't believe it will."

6.40am - GNS volcanologist Brad Scott told Radio New Zealand the eruption began from the Te Mare craters at the north end of Mt Tongariro at 11.50pm.

An earthquake lasting about five minutes accompanied the eruption and residents reportedly heard the explosions.

"When they went outside to have a look they saw the volcano starting to erupt. They saw incandescent blocks - glowing hot blocks - and they saw an eruption column being developed and within about five minutes they were experiencing a light local ash fall."

GNS had been aware of some issues at Mt Tongariro for a few weeks, "but to be honest we didn't see anything in the latest data up until last night that indicated it was ready to erupt", Mr Scott said.

He said there was likely to be further activity.

"There's not showing any escalation - the earthquake activity hasn't increased or anything like that - but we would probably anticipate some more activity now that the craters have broken through."

6.35am - The aviation colour code has been raised to red.

6.34am - Weatherwatch.co.nz say the wind direction overnight was a westerly and throughout today the winds will turn more north westerly as a front and large low approaches.

"The winds don't look especially strong over the next few days as the centre of a low crosses the North Island - the lighter the winds are the more ash will fall locally around the mountain and less likely to cause widespread disruptions further afield," says head weather analyst Philip Duncan.

5:43am - The Civil Aviation Authority's Meterology Manager Peter Lechner says there will be a new advisory issued to aircraft just after 6am. He said the ash cloud was affecting a zone of airspace stretching as far as from Tongariro to north of Gisborne then south to Hawkes Bay and possibly northern Wairarapa. The CAA alerted all aircraft using a volcanic ash advisory system, working with MetService. Mr Lechner said that ash can build up in the turbines of aeroplanes and helicopters, causing engines to stall.

"It can result in significant flight risk."

5:41am - A media conference in relation to the eruption on Mount Tongariro will be held at 9.30am this morning at the Taupo police station.

5:39am - Clayton Bolt, a passing motorist told RadioLive that he saw a massive white cloud coming from the side of Mt Tongariro. "I put my foot down. I said, I'm going."

5:00am - A truck driver has told Radio New Zealand that the ash cloud has caused thick dust and reduced visibility on the Desert Road. Bryn Rodda said he saw a large cloud rising from the mountain with orange flashes.

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/112587/tongariro-erupts,-threat-warning-issued

4:00am - Aviation colour code increased from orange to red. Potential threat remains for Waikato, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki regions.

3:00am - Ash fall reported as far east as Napier CBD.

2:00am - Police close Desert Rd due to possible danger to the public. SH47, 4 and SH5 remain open. Police are sending search and rescue teams up Mt Tongariro at first light to check no one is stranded in huts. No reports of injuries or damage. A joint agency incident management centre is established at the Whakapapa Department of Conservation visitor centre.

1:45am - National advisory from Civil Defense - people in Waikato, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki regions advised to take precautions by staying indoors and avoiding ash fall.

1:00am - residents reported to have left their houses on the southern shores of Lake Rotoaira.

12:25am - GNS Science Volcanic Alert Bulletin issued. Volcanic alert level raised from level 1 to level 2. Aviation colour code changed from yellow to orange.

12:00am - reports of loud explosions, lightning and plumes of smoke.

11:50pm Monday - Eruption occurs, ash fall recorded in local vicinity.

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