May 18, 2009 / 6:57 PM / 10 years ago

Saudi Arabia evacuates 5 villages in volcano scare

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi authorities evacuated five western villages on Monday after tremors hit a volcanic region in the past weeks raising concerns of possible eruptions.

“There was a large quake, the largest so far,” Ahmed al-Attas, vice president of the Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), told Reuters after civil defence officials evacuated the villages near the town of al-Ais.

Attas was referring to a 4.68 earthquake, which hit the region on Sunday. Al-Ais, 150 km (100 miles) northeast of the Yanbu on the Red Sea, is not close to the world’s top oil exporter’s oil and petrochemicals facilities.

The region lies on a fault line, according to SGS, which declined to comment on current magma levels, but newspapers reported that in the past few days magma levels had risen to 4 km (2.5 miles) below the surface from 8 km.

Fears of an eruption in dormant volcanoes in al-Ais have sent panic stricken residents voluntarily fleeing to the holy city of Medina and Yanbu last week.

The population of al-Ais, an ancient resting place for caravans travelling between the western and southern cities of the Arabian Peninsula and Syria, is estimated at around 60,000 people.

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