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New Zealand's largest ski resort covered in ash

Volcano temporarily closes ski areas

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New Zealand’s largest ski area was closed on Wednesday when an unexpected eruption spewed ash into the air and sent a lahar — volcanic mudflow — down the side of Mt. Ruapehu.

Mt. Ruapehu, which is located on the North Island, includes the Turoa and Whakapapa ski resorts that boast the most vertical of any resorts in New Zealand. Both resorts are expected to reopen this week, possibly by Thursday, if experts confirm that the risk of further volcanic activity is low.

The eruption happened at 8:23 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 25 when the mountain was mostly empty. A climber who was staying in an alpine hut was seriously injured when his legs were crushed by falling rock. He underwent surgery on Wednesday.

A little further away, huts that were packed with students on vacation felt the accompanying earthquake, which was a mild 2.8 on the Richter Scale.

There was no warning before the eruption, but the area experienced similar small eruptions in 1969 and 1975. An eruption in 1995 caused more extensive damage to the ski area facilities.

As a precautionary measure the New Zealand government closed nearby roads and the rail line, but both were reopened by Wednesday afternoon.

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