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Authorities in north-eastern Ethiopia have advised 50 000 people to evacuate from a remote region following a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, an official said on Wednesday.
The evacuation advice was given in the Afar region after a September 24 earthquake triggered an eruption of the previously dormant Mount Arteala. Another quake measuring 4,2 on the Richter scale struck on Tuesday, leading to another eruption, said Manahlo Belachew, from the seismology department of Addis Ababa University.
A thick layer of ash that has spewed from the volcano has covered grazing grounds, preventing nomadic cattle herders from feeding their livestock. Several hundred cattle have already died in the region, which borders Eritrea and Djibouti.
"We were also told that earthquakes have so far damaged roads in the region's Teru and Dubti districts, making transportation difficult in a region largely inhabited by salt-mining Afar pastoralists," Belachew said.
Afar authorities have advised the 50 000 people living in the stricken area to travel 400km south of the region to save their lives and cattle, Belachew said.
A group of Ethiopian, European and American scientists are in their third stage of the project that investigates how the African continent is splitting along the Ethiopian Rift Valley.
The scientists believe the African continent is in the early stages of breaking up and in several million years’ time a new ocean will have formed along the line of the East African Rift.
“Understanding how continents break apart is fundamental to understanding the plate tectonic processes that control the shape of the Earth’s surface. The Ethiopian Rift Valley provides a unique opportunity for a detailed scientific study of these processes because it is in the transitional stage between the initial stretching and faulting of the continent and the final formation of a new ocean (like the Red Sea),” said a statement from the Ethiopia Afar Geoscientific Lithospheric Experiment (EAGLE).
The EAGLE project involves recording seismic waves from controlled sources and natural earthquakes to provide a three dimensional image of the northeast section of the Ethiopian Rift Valley from the surface to depths of around 100km.
The project is the largest seismic project ever undertaken in Africa, with over 70 scientists contributing to the field data collection.