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Volcano eruption sparks mass evacuation in Indonesia

Photo: AFP

One of the most dangerous volcanoes on the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java erupted late on Thursday, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes as a huge plume of ash and sand shot 17 km into the air.

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TV images showed ash and rocks raining down on nearby villages, while AFP correspondents at the scene saw terrified locals covered in ash fleeing in cars and on motorbikes towards evacuation centres.

Mount Kelud is 140 km (87 miles) south of Indonesia’s second biggest city Surabaya, a major industrial centre.

International airports in Surabaya and the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo were closed temporarily, the transport ministry's Director General of Aviation Herry Bakti said on Metro TV, which showed images of grounded planes covered in ash.

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said that some 200,000 people from 36 villages in a 10-kilometre (six-mile) area around Kelud, in Kediri district in eastern Java, had been told to evacuate.

“Areas to the west of Mount Kelud, including central Java, Yogyakarta, Cilacap, Magelang, Temanggung and Boyolali are still experiencing showers of ash because last night the biggest eruption ... threw sand and ash 17 km (10 miles) into the air to the west,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho told AP by telephone.

Cilacap is home to a major oil refinery, but there was no immediate word on whether its operations had been affected. Its refineries supply about a third of the country’s fuel needs.

The agency later said the cloud was dissipating and that the volcano was no longer erupting.

Nugroho said the agency was still trying to confirm reports that two people had died.

“We don’t have data yet on how many people have been evacuated in total. We can say 200,000 people were affected. We received reports of deaths but we have not verified them yet,” he said.

The eruption caused minimal damage to buildings, Sutopo said, but had left 3 to 5 cm (1 ½ to 2 inches) of ash and sand on roads.

At least 11 people were killed earlier this month in the north of the island of Sumatra when Mount Sinabung erupted. The volcano has been spewing lava and ash for months, forcing thousands to flee the area and destroying crops.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in a message on Twitter that he planned to visit the area near Kelud.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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