Tongariro's huge cloud 'beautiful but scary'
MIKE WATSON AND SOPHIE SPEER
Rumblings in the night, earth tremors and steaming thermal vents.
For the 100 or so people who live in the shadow of Mt Tongariro, it's all part of life under the mountain.
"It's a volcano - if it goes, it's going to go," says retired soldier David Bennett, who lives near Lake Rotoaira. "We'd be vaporised in a second if it goes up, so there's no point in worrying."
Mr Bennett was one of the first to alert authorities when Mt Tongariro erupted at 11.58pm on Monday night, covering his house and others in a thick puggy grey paste.
He woke about midnight to a loud roar. "It was strange . . . I pulled the bedroom curtains and said to myself, ‘Hello'.
"I could see two plumes of steam heading straight up - a big one, and a smaller one. Next I saw lightning and thought rocks would be coming down on the house."
He never gave a thought to moving out, though. "It does its thing . . . today was our moment . . . Ruapehu has had its moment and Ngauruhoe has as well. Now it's our turn."
A meeting between residents and Conservation Department staff last week at Papakai Marae set out an evacuation plan because Tongariro "had been playing up recently", he said. Only a handful of residents left their homes yesterday, with the remainder staying indoors.
A kilometre from Mr Bennett, thick, heavy ash rained down on Dave Allan's house and paddocks.
Lying in bed, the Rangipo Prison guard heard a loud boom. "It felt as though it was under the house."
He jumped out of bed and looked out the window to see a "huge black mushroom-shaped cloud".
"It was just amazing looking at it . . . all the colours . . . reds and yellows, beautiful colours really, but frightening too. I didn't stay around for long, I bolted to the neighbours to help them."
He checked on residents and took two teenagers to Hirangi Marae in Turangi.
Yesterday morning, wearing a face mask to help with breathing, he arrived back to find his house coated in black ash blown eastwards by the wind.
Cars, horses and deer, and grass paddocks on his property were covered in the thick ash.
"It just came down in sheets, it was hard to breathe. Everything was covered in the s..., it's a big horrible mess."
Lake Rotoaira manager William Marshall, who grew up in the area, said: "The old people always told us not to panic if there was an eruption, and that's what we have passed on to the next generation.
"We didn't feel scared, we've grown up here and witnessed Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe both go up.
"When I woke my uncle and told him, he said, ‘Don't worry' and went straight back to sleep."
Adventure HQ staff member Kerry Wakelin was outside her house with her dogs when the mountain erupted.
She thought it was a storm and went back to bed. "I had a good night's sleep.
"It's all par for the course for locals here. We survived Mt Ruapehu, and we have had a few small tremors in the past week."
Ms Wakelin was working at Whakapapa when Mt Ruapehu erupted in 1997.
"I freaked out and I had my bags packed ready to go. But this time we're just carrying on as usual.
"The mountain is like a big old giant who has woken up, farted, and turned over and gone back to sleep."
FARMERS KEEP FINGERS CROSSED
The eruption has had little to no effect on farming, and market gardeners south of Mt Tongariro are keeping their fingers crossed the ash cloud does not change direction.
Most of the ash dropped on National Park and forest areas, and what fell on farms was minimal, Federated Farmers spokesman David Broome said.
Ohakune brussels sprouts producer Murray Taylor said if the ash fell over his gardens, the remainder of his crop would be destroyed.
"If we get ash on the produce, we don't wash vigorously enough to get rid of the ash."
With three to four weeks left of his harvest, Mr Taylor was "a little concerned" about the risk of ash. "We're keeping our fingers crossed."
Retail stores in Wellington and Auckland that sell his brussels sprouts had called to ensure the crop was unaffected, he said.
During the Ruapehu eruptions in the mid-1990s, ash landed on his market garden, ruining his crop, but because it happened only once, the cost was minimal, Mr Taylor said.
Mr Broome said the eruption had had minimal effect on stock and waterways.
Ash fall of less than 5mm did not affect animals, and less than that had fallen on farmland in the ash cloud area, he said.
Taupo vet Donald Shanks said animal welfare problems could arise if clean water and feed were not available.
Ensuring stock had access to longer-length, grassy pasture would help reduce ash and contaminated soil ingestion.
Pregnant ewes were especially vulnerable because they were more at risk of digestion issues caused by eating ash, Dr Shanks said.
The ash could cause skin infections, lung damage and teeth damage in grazing animals, New Zealand Veterinary Association spokesman Wayne Ricketts said.
Dr Shanks was unaware of any affected stock.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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