Thousands Flee Indonesian Volcano

Mount Merapi, Indonesia. Indonesia ordered thousands of people to evacuate from around Mount Merapi on Monday as it raised the alert for its most active volcano to red, warning of a possible imminent eruption.

Seismic activity has escalated dramatically at the volcano on the densely populated island of Java, with increasing lava spurts and about 500 multi-phased volcanic earthquakes recorded over the weekend, officials said.

The state office of volcanology had upgraded its alert level to red at 6:00 am (2300 GMT), signalling an eruption could be imminent.

“The magma has been pushed upwards due to the escalating seismic energy and it’s about a kilometer below the crater,” government volcanologist Surono said.

About 19,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate a danger zone of 10 kilometers from the crater of the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) mountain.

About 3,000 have already moved to makeshift camps, mostly women, children and the elderly.

“The evacuation has been underway since this morning. We put a priority on children, women and elderly,” field coordinator Widi Sutikno of the main Sleman district on the southern slopes of the mountain said.

Merapi — whose name means “Mountain of Fire” — has been blanketed with clouds since the morning.

Local resident Yanto, 38, said he would remain in his village to tend his sheep.

“I haven’t seen any visible threats from Merapi. It is better for young men like me to stay here to look after our livestock. If the volcano does erupt, we can escape quickly,” he said.

“Let the children and old people go first to a safer place,” he added.

The volcano, which lies 26 kilometers north of the town of Yogyakarta in the centre of Java, is the most active of 69 volcanoes with histories of eruptions in Indonesia.

It last erupted in June 2006 killing two people, but its deadliest eruption occurred in 1930 when more than 1,300 people were killed. Heat clouds from another eruption in 1994 killed more than 60 people.

“It currently has more energy than before the 2006 eruption. We haven’t found strong indications that it will erupt explosively as it did in 1930 but there is still a possibility,” Surono said.

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