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New Zealand's Mount Tongariro volcano erupts; ash disrupts flights

After being dormant for more than a century, seismic activity in New Zealand kicks off a volcanic eruption large enough to delay air traffic. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

Mount Tongariro volcano erupted late Monday for the first time in nearly a century, leaving New Zealand’s North Island under a huge ash cloud, national media reported.

The eruptions caught geologists by surprise, 3 News reported.

Roads were closed, flights were disrupted and nearby residents were advised to stay indoors as ash and rock spewed from the mountain, the New Zealand Herald reported. Ash was drifting east and fell about 100 miles to the east in Napier, on the coast, the Herald reported. Tongariro is about 200 miles north of Wellington.  

A witness who called police late Monday reported seeing explosions at 11:50 p.m. on the northern face of the nearly 6,500-foot-tall mountain.

The eruption created “a new hole in the side of the mountain,” the witness told police, according to the Herald.

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There were no reports of injuries. No evacuations were ordered but authorities advised nearby residents to disconnect water tanks and stay indoors.

The volcanic activity could pose a threat to Waikato, Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Manawatu, Wanganui, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, 3 News reported.

New Zealand Police via EPA

Ash covering the ground on Tuesday after Mount Tongariro erupted overnight in Turangi, New Zealand.

Truckie Tama Coker said there was a "big flash," then it began "raining sand," 3 News reported. Visibility was down to yards.

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"I could just see the yellow glare on the mountain," Coker said. "I only had visibility of about 10 to 15 feet in front of me. It was a bit scary. "It's something I'll probably never see again in my lifetime."

According to the Auckland Airport website, various flights from Napier, Palmerston North, Taupo and Rotorua were canceled. Air New Zealand says it will not fly any planes through ash.

Tongariro's active Red Crater last emitted ash in 1926, according to New Zealand's Department of Conservation. Small quakes were reported beneath the volcano last month, 3 News reported.

This article includes reporting by NBC News' Jim Gold.

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