Volcano erupts off Yemen, 9 soldiers missing

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SANAA, Oct 1 (Reuters) A volcanic eruption off the Red Sea coast of Yemen spewed lava hundreds of yards (metres) into the air yesterday evening and at least nine people were missing at sea, Canadian naval officials and the Yemeni state news agency said.

The eruption occurred on Jazirt Mount al-Tair, an island about 80 miles (140 km) from Yemen.

A Defence Ministry official said the western part of the island had ''collapsed'' following the eruption. He said naval ships were searching the surrounding waters for nine missing Yemeni soldiers who were stationed on the island.

Yemen's Oil Minister Khaled Mahfoudh Bahah said several earthquakes felt yesterday had triggered the eruption.

''Three earthquakes struck the island around 1127 GMT on Sunday, and were ranging between 4.3 and 4 on the Richter scale,'' Jamal al-Shalaan, head of the Yemeni Earthquake Centre told state news agency Saba.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who flew to nearby Hudaidah port yesterday late evening to observe the situation, told the Yemeni navy to send rescue teams, Saba reported.

A Canadian frigate, HMCS Toronto, was conducting a search and rescue operation at the request of the Yemen coast guard.

The NATO fleet was sailing north towards the Suez Canal at the time of the eruption, the Canadian navy said in a statement.

It said it was trying to locate nine people believed to be at sea in the area.

Navy spokesman Ken Allen told the Canadian Press news agency that lava was spewing hundreds of yards into the air, with volcanic ash also rising 300 yards (metres).

In an e-mail from Toronto, he said the entire two-mile-long (three-km-long) island was aglow with lava and magma as it poured into the sea.

Yemen has had a military base on Jazirt Mount al-Tair since its 1996 conflict with Eritrea over the islands of Hanish and Jabal Zuqar.

A Yemeni geologist said the volcano had previously erupted in the 19th and 18th centuries, and is regarded as one of the Red Sea's more recent volcanic islands, Saba said.

REUTERS SYU RK1300

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