Thousands of residents who fled to safety after a volcano on Indonesia’s Sumatra island erupted began returning to their homes on Wednesday, officials said.

Mount Sinabung erupted after 400 years of dormancy on Sunday and Monday, spewing hot ash thousands of metres into the air and forcing nearly 29,000 villagers living on its slopes to seek refuge in temporary shelters.

“The situation is under control and the needs of the displaced have been met,” said Andi Arief, an aide to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dealing with disasters.

He said 21,000 villagers were still in the shelters while others had returned to their fields to harvest their crops.

“Security personnel - police and the military - remain on alert,” he said.

Aid workers have warned of outbreaks of disease in the temporary shelters, saying some had suffered diarrhoea, respiratory problems and eye irritation due to volcanic dust and poor sanitation.

As many as 31 villages in the Karo district are located inside the official danger area, with 12 hamlets within 6 kilometres of the crater classified as the most dangerous place.

Indonesia has about 500 volcanoes, with nearly 130 of them active and 69 listed as dangerous.

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