An undersea volcano on the island of Vanuatu erupted and sent a huge explosion of ash up from the water just off the coast of the South Pacific country on February 1. The Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards Department (VMGD) had also confirmed increased activity near the East Epi volcano before 8 am local time.
The department shared pictures of the eruption and a map with a 10-kilometer "risk zone" surrounding the submerged volcano.
The Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-hazards Department wrote on Facebook along with the pictures, "Early this morning, reports and observations from locals at Epi indicate an increase in the activity of the East Epi sub-marine volcano at around 7:48am with steam over the sub-marine volcano area. There is also reports of Sulphur dioxide followed by phreatic explosions propelling ash some 100 meters high."
They added that people should stay away from the coast. "People on Epi, Tongoa and the surrounding islands are advised to stay clear of the coast as phreatic explosions may continue and could generate small waves," the department said on social media.
People were shocked to see such an occurrence. "OMG! This came from under the water, my goodness!" remarked a user. " stay safe out there," added another person.
Government official and eyewitness Philip Dick told AFP that in the early hours, the ground began to tremble and smoke could be seen rising above the site. "Then the explosions began -- there is still a bad smell of sulphur within the nearby villages," he added.
Less than a month ago, Espiritu Santo, the largest island in Vanuatu, was struck by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake. It is to be noted that Vanuatu, which is located in the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire," is vulnerable to cyclones, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. It has also been ranked by the United Nations University as the world's most at-risk nation for natural disasters.