Major eruption from Indonesia's Mount Awu volcano

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Tahuna, Indonesia (dpa) - Mount Awu volcano on Indonesia's remote Sangihe island belched black smoke and ash up 3,000-metres into the sky on Thursday in what volcanologists described as the crater's biggest eruption this week.

"At about 5:29 a.m. this morning, the Awu volcano hurled stones, rocks and other volcanic materials from its crater,'' said Agus Solihin, a volcanologist at the nearby monitoring post in Tahuna.

"It was the biggest eruption so far since the Awu was increasing its activity several days ago,'' Solihin told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Tahuna is the main town on Sangihe, a small island off the North Sulawesi province, 2,610 kilometres northeast of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. It is located just south of Mindanao Island in the Philippines.

Volcanic ash was blown out by the winds to the north and northeast from Awu's crater, sparing the island where residents were already suffering from respiratory problems after several days of activity from the crater.

A number of smaller eruptions and aftershocks followed the major eruption Thursday.

Solihin said Thursday's eruption caused no injuries because the majority of villagers living in the danger zones of Awu's slopes had already been evacuated.

Hendri, a senior administrator in Sangihe, said about 18,000 out of 28,000 residents living in the danger zones around the volcano have been provided temporary shelter in schools and churches in Tahuna, about 15 kilometres from Awu's crater.

"Our next contingency plan is to evacuate the remaining 10,000 villagers out of the danger zones immediately should the Awu volcano get out of control,'' Hendri said.

He said the island administration was facing logistical problems providing necessities for the evacuees, who required nine tons of rice per day.

Volcanologists assume Awu's eruptions will continue for some time. The 1,320-metre-high Mount Awu's last major eruption was in August 1966, claiming 39 lives and forcing 11,000 to flee the area surrounding the mountain. A small eruption took place in 1992, but caused no casualties.

Indonesia has more than 100 active volcanoes. Meanwhile, volcanologists said new tremors were recorded Thursday from Mount Bromo volcano in Indonesia's crowded East Java province.

Bromo national park, a popular tourist spot, has been closed to visitors since Tuesday when a "sudden'' eruption from the crater killed two tourists and injured another five.

"We are still not allowing any visitors to get close to Bromo's crater,'' said Mas Atje Purbawinata, a volcanologist expert dispatched to monitor the one of Indonesia's most active volcano.

Purbawinata said that based on the recorded data, he was not sure when Bromo's status would be downgraded from the current "alert level three'', one level below a full state of alert.

"There is no indication yet at this stage that the Bromo volcano will calm down,'' Purbawinata told dpa.

Volcano watching is a highly unpredictable science. Two tourists, a Singaporean and Indonesian, were killed and five other Indonesian hikers were injured by falling rocks and debris hurled from Bromo's crater when it erupted suddenly on Tuesday.

Purbawinata said Bromo's eruption happened quickly and was over in only 20 minutes.

Purbawinata maintained there was no direct link between Awu and the Bromo volcano. He said the tectonic system between the two volcanoes was different, adding that the current activity from both volcanoes was merely "coincidental''.

The Indonesian archipelago, straddling the seismically-active "Ring of Fire'', has the world's highest density of volcanoes. Of its 500 volcanoes, 128 are active and 65 are listed as dangerous. dpa wd sh pj blg

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