Indonesia

Roundup: Thousands flee as Indonesian volcano spews ash and smoke

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Jakarta_(dpa) _ Thousands of villagers living on the slopes of Mount Gamkonora in the eastern Indonesian province of North Maluku have been evacuated as the volcano spewed hot ash and smoke into the sky for the second straight day, officials said Tuesday.

No casualties or damage have been reported, but the volcano remained a threat because several eruptions, including three major explosions recorded on Tuesday with ash columns and smoke emerging from its crater, said Imam Barkah, head of the disaster coordination centre in West Halmahera district.

More than 8,000 residents from nine villages on the volcano's slopes have been evacuated while efforts to evacuate more than 5,000 villagers were still underway, Barkah said.

"The evacuation process is underway," Barkah told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview, adding that about 2,000 villagers opted to stay behind to guard their belongings.

He said the fleeing villagers were sheltered at schools and government buildings and that food supplies and drinking water had been sent there.

M Hendrasto, the head of Indonesia's Volcanology Survey, told dpa earlier that Gamkonora volcano spewed hot ash and black smoke from its crater up to about 3,000 metres into the sky.

The 1,325-metre Mount Gamkonora volcano on Halmahera Island in North Maluku province, about 2,380 kilometres north-east of Jakarta, erupted on Monday afternoon, prompting volcanologists to declare the situation a "state of alert" leading to the evacuation of those living in the danger zone.

"We have ordered the local government authorities to evacuate residents living at a radius of 8 kilometres from the volcanos crater," Hendrasto said. "As of Monday afternoon, we have been monitoring the volcanos activity round-the-clock."

He said volcanic ash fell as far as 7 kilometres from the volcano's crater, while a team of vulcanologists went to Halmahera island on Monday night and were expected to arrive at the volcano on Wednesday.

Mount Gamkonora's last eruption was in 1997, which claimed no lives but forced thousands of residents to flee the area surrounding the mountain, Hendrasto said.

The Indonesian archipelago, straddling the seismically active Ring of Fire, has the world's highest density of volcanos. Of its 500 volcanos, 128 are active and 65 are listed as dangerous. dpa sh tl pw

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