19,000 flee as eruptions of Indonesia’s Sinabung volcano intensify

Mount Sinabung, which has been rumbling for months, erupted nine times overnight, triggering fresh flight warnings and evacuations

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 January, 2014, 6:12pm

A rumbling volcano in western Indonesia that has been spewing lava and clouds of gas high into the sky let out a new, powerful burst on Tuesday, prompting warnings for airplanes and triggering panic among villagers, officials said.

More than 19,000 people have been displaced by Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province, which has been erupting for months and which shot lava and searing gas into the air nine times overnight, the nation’s disaster mitigation agency spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said on Tuesday.

The volcano started spitting clouds of gas and lava as high as 7,000 metres in the air late on Monday, but no casualties were reported.

Villagers have been evacuated from areas within a danger zone 5 kilometres around the crater to temporary shelters. Authorities had raised the alert status for Sinabung to the highest level in November.

Gray ash covered villages, farms and trees as far as 70 kilometres southeast of the mountain.

“Mount Sinabung remains on the highest alert level and we have warned there should be no human activity within a five-kilometre radius of the crater,” Nugroho said.

“On Monday night, 19,126 people had fled their homes, and we expect that number to rise,” he said.

Police and soldiers were patrolling the danger zone to evacuate people who have chosen to stay in their homes, Nugroho said.

The 2,600-metre-high volcano erupted in September for the first time since 2010 and has been rumbling ever since.

Watch: How villagers are coping amid eruptions

The 2010 eruption killed two people and caught scientists off guard because the volcano had been quiet for four centuries.

Transportation Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said airlines had been notified to avoid routes near the mountain.

Mount Sinabung is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific

“Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

In August, five people were killed and hundreds evacuated when a volcano on a tiny island in East Nusa Tenggara province erupted.

The country’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi in central Java, killed more than 350 people in a series of violent eruptions in 2010.