updated 4/18/2005 5:45:01 AM ET 2005-04-18T09:45:01

A volcano erupted on the main island of the Comoros archipelago early Monday, sending thousands of people fleeing from their homes at the urging of the government, a U.N. official said.

Lava started flowing out of the 7,746-foot Mount Karthala at 1:30 a.m., just hours after the volcano spewed ash and dark smoke on Grand Comore, the largest island of the Indian Ocean archipelago, said Bernadette Ninyaratunga of the United Nations Children Fund.

There were no immediate reports of injuries on the island, which lies about 185 miles east of the African nation of Mozambique.

Government officials say some 10,000 people have been affected by the eruption, Ninyaratunga said.

A team of experts is flying over the volcano and its slopes to assess dangers posed by the eruption and damage caused so far, she said.

The volcano last erupted in July 1991. No one was killed then, but tens of thousands of villagers left their homes. The volcano is known to erupt about every 11 years.

As the volcano spewed ash and smoke before the eruption, officials urged residents to leave eastern parts of Grand Comore and mobilized vehicles to evacuate people from the area most affected by volcanic ash, Giuseppina Mazza, head of the U.N. team in the Comoros, said Sunday.

Medical teams were also dispatched to aid those who had breathing problems because of the ash, she said.

Officials in Comoros have already set up an emergency team to monitor and coordinate a response to the situation, Mazza said.

The mountain lies at the center of the southern half of Grande Comore, and Moroni, with a population of about 50,000, sits at the foot of the western slope of Mount Karthala.

Comoros, a three-island republic that gained independence from France in 1975, is one of the world’s poorest countries with a young and rapidly increasing population of about 770,000.

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