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Tongariro eruption site inspection unveils new threat

Wednesday 8 Aug 2012 5:46 p.m.

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By Hilary Barry

Something for the Tongariro tourist industry to cheer about: some of the walking tracks will reopen tomorrow morning.

But definitely not the Tongariro Crossing, which is still at great risk – and not just because of the chance of further eruptions.

Today, scientists got their first decent look at the area and discovered a new threat has been created.

The ash from Monday night’s eruption has blocked some of the small streams, creating three new dams. Rainwater has backed up behind them, in turn, creating new lakes.

If those new dams give way suddenly, a flash flood would pour down the mountain, sweeping away bridges on the tracks – and any trampers.

So the Tongariro Crossing stays shut, for now.

What the Department of Conservation (DOC) and volcanologists really wanted today was a look at what was happening where the first eruption occurred.

A brief break in the weather today meant they got just that, and the experts admit they were surprised at the extent of the damage.

From the air you can see a path of debris 1.5km across – half as much as they had thought this time yesterday.

The roof of the Ketetahi Hut has been smashed by several large boulders, while smaller shrapnel lies strewn on the deck and roof. DOC says nobody is going anywhere near the spot for a while.

One of the most interesting developments for scientists has been the creation of three new steam vents on the side of Mt Tongariro.

And as if it wasn’t spectacular enough, the Tongariro Crossing guides now have a new photo stop along the way – once the track re-opens.

DOC says for now, the bird’s eye view provided in aerial footage is as close as anyone is going to get, because it is too dangerous for even their staff to go on.

The Tongariro Crossing will remain closed for now, but DOC says it is working with scientists to see if it is safe to open up other parts of the track – away from the crater.

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