INTERNATIONAL

Volcano spews ash in biggest eruption

Mushrooming threat: Mount Lokon spews volcanic ash as seen from Tomohon, North Sulawesi, Indonesia on Sunday. — PHOTO: AP

Mushrooming threat: Mount Lokon spews volcanic ash as seen from Tomohon, North Sulawesi, Indonesia on Sunday. — PHOTO: AP  

A volatile volcano in central Indonesia unleashed its most powerful eruption yet on Sunday, spewing hot ash and smoke thousands of feet into the air and sending panicked villagers racing back to emergency shelters. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Mount Lokon, located on northern Sulawesi island, has been dormant for years but rumbled back to life late last week. A series of overnight blasts on Thursday and Friday claimed one life of a woman who suffered a cardiac arrest as she fled.

But Surono, a government volcanologist who uses only one name, said Sunday's 10-35 a.m. eruption released the greatest amount of energy so far, shooting soot and debris 11,400 feet into the sky.

“We're hoping this helped ease pressure building up behind the magma dome and that we'll now start seeing a reduction in activity,” he said. “But it's too early to know.”

More than 33,000 people live along the slopes of Mount Lokon, taking advantage of fertile soil to grow cloves and coffee. About 5,000 of them with homes nearest to the crater have been relocated in recent days to schools, mosques and other makeshift shelters near the base.

Despite warnings that the mountain was still not safe, some had returned early on Sunday to tend to their crops and their livestock.

The powerful explosion sent them racing back down the slopes, some jumping into cars and motorcycles, others rounded up by soldiers and police and escorted down in trucks.

Airlines travelling within 10 km of the peak were told to reroute their flights, but none have been cancelled so far.

— AP

Recommended for you