JAKARTA, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Thousands of residents in Indonesia’s East Java were on high alert on Monday after a violent eruption from the island’s highest volcano prompted authorities to impose an 8-kilometer exclusion zone and evacuate entire villages .
The province’s search and rescue agency dispatched teams to the worst-hit areas near Mount Semeru to assess the damage, with light rains bringing some respite, Tholib Vatelehan, a spokesman for Basarnas, told Reuters.
“Yesterday the rainfall was heavy which caused all the material to come down from the top of the mountain. But today there’s no rain so far, so it’s relatively safe,” he said.
No casualties were reported and there was no immediate disruption to air travel.
The 3,676 meter high volcano erupted at 14:46 local time on Sunday (07:46 GMT). Footage taken by local residents showed Mount Semeru spewing out a huge plume of gray ash high above its crater, which later engulfed the mountain and surrounding rice fields, roads and bridges, turning the sky black. A video shared on Twitter by the Environment Ministry showed a pyroclastic flow of lava, rock and hot gases pouring down the mountainside.
People fled the outbreak on motorcycles, with nearly 2,500 people forced to evacuate, authorities said.
Indonesia’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Agency raised the alert level for Mount Semeru to the highest level on Sunday. The agency also issued a warning to local residents not to approach within 8 km (5 miles) of the summit or 500 meters from river banks due to the risk of lava flows.
Semeru erupted last year, killing more than 50 people and displacing thousands more.
The eruption, about 640 km (400 miles) east of the capital Jakarta, follows a series of earthquakes in western Java, including one last month that killed more than 300 people.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, is one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth.
With 142 volcanoes, Indonesia has the world’s largest population living in close proximity to a volcano, including 8.6 million within a 10 km (6.2 mi) radius.
Reporting by Ananda Teresa; writing by Kate Lamb; Adaptation by Kanupriya Kapoor
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