Scientists' near miss
A team of GNS scientists had been assessing seismic activity at the vent on Mt Tongariro less than an hour before it erupted.
The group, along with Department of Conservation staff, had been checking on seismic monitoring machines at the vent about 45 minutes before it started spewing ash and smoke, Tuwharetoa spokesman and DOC worker Bubs Smith said.
"They were actually right at the vent a little bit prior to the eruption.
"They'd actually just left the mountain and within not even five or ten minutes up she went."
The crew turned around and headed back to the mountain to check on trampers and assess the activity.
Mr Smith said they were lucky to get out when they did.
"The potential is probably anyone's guess," he said.
"Basically, being right in the front row seat, it could have potentially been quite nasty. [They were] lucky to get out when they got out."
Mr Smith, who lives in Turangi and helps to coordinate local residents, said there had been very little ash fall in the area, but people were still on alert.
Most of the ash came down the northeastern side of the mountain and settled along the eastern edge Lake Rotoaira, south of Lake Taupo, he said.
"Basically everyone's been checking on their neighbours and seeing how everyone is.
"No doubt some of them would have had a bit of a sleepless night, slept with one eye open and both shoes on."
However, he said, for most of them, it would "business as usual" today.
The stench of sulphur lingered in the Turangi air this morning, but there were no other signs that a volcano had erupted only hours earlier.
There was no ash along State Highway 46 near Rangipo like there was following the August 6 eruption, despite the road being closed yesterday.
- © Fairfax NZ News