Jakarta: One person died
and thousands were evacuated Sunday as a volcano on the Indonesian
island of Sumatra erupted for the first time in 400 years, shooting
black smoke and ash up to 1,500 metres into the air.
Mount Sinabung in the Karo district of North Sumatra province
thundered to life shortly after midnight, shooting lava and other
volcanic materials from its crater.
The government's Directorate of Vulcanology upgraded the volcano's
danger status to the highest level minutes before the eruption of
the 2,451-metre peak, located about 1,300 km northwest of Jakarta.
Using trucks, ambulances and buses, local authorities evacuated
thousands of residents living in nearby hamlets immediately after
the eruption, the state-run Antara news agency reported.
A 54-year-old man died from a breathing problem on the way to an
evacuation centre, Red Cross official Muhammad Irsal, who was
helping with the evacuation process, told DPA.
Local media quoted residents as saying lava was visible from several
kilometres away, including in Berastagi, a tourist area in North
Sumatra, while volcanic dust reached as far as the provincial
capital of Medan.
More than 10,000 people in 17 communities were evacuated, Irsal
said, adding that they were taking refuge in government buildings
and tents had also been erected.
"At midnight, there was a strong shock - believed to be a volcanic
earthquake," Irsal said Sunday. "Immediately after, we saw lava come
down from the peak of Sinabung, and fire began to burn the forest at
the foot of the mountain."
He said thick smoke had reduced visibility to up to only five metres.
Firman, a weather forecaster, said the eruption had so far not
disrupted flights at Medan's airport.
The Directorate of Vulcanology said Sinabung's eruption was the
first recorded since 1600.
"Previously, there was no significant activity at the Mount Sinabung
volcano, so the monitoring did not take priority since the 1600s," Surono, the head of the directorate, was quoted as saying by Antara.
Surono, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, said a team
of experts were deployed to keep an eye on Sinabung's activity.
"We're recommending the residents remain at the evacuation centres
until further notice," Surono told MetroTV.
Besides ordering the evacuations, experts also warned residents to
wear face masks against the volcano's ash and told people living
along rivers to be alert to the possibility of lava-induced floods.
Indonesia has the highest density of volcanoes in the world with
about 500 in the "Belt of Fire" in the 5,000-km-long archipelago
nation. Nearly 130 are active and 68 are listed as dangerous.