15 Jul 2011

Thousands flee as Mount Lokon volcano erupts in Indonesia

The eruption of an Indonesian volcano spewing lava and smoke 1,500 metres into the air is forcing panicked residents to flee.

Mount Lokon in Sulawesi, Indonesia which has erupted (Reuters)

There was a powerful eruption at Mount Lokon just after midnight local time on Friday, and another at 1.10am local time (6.10 GMT on Thursday), following an earlier eruption at 10.46pm on Thursday night (3.46 GMT).

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Mount Lokon, in Indonesia‘s north Sulawesi province, is one of the country’s 129 active volcanos which includes Mount Merapi which erupted in October 2010 killing over 100 people. The eruption closely followed an earthquake and 3-metre tsunami.

Forests on fire

Disaster management agency official Darwis Sitinjak told El Shinta radio from the scene that soldiers and police were helping rescuers evacuate about 500 people who live along the mountain’s fertile slopes.

They join 2,000 others who fled on Wednesday after being warned to stay far from the 1,750m volcano, which has been on high alert for nearly a week, with small eruptions daily.

Indonesia which is the world’s fourth most populous nation, is a vast archipelago of 235 million people, and is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific Ocean.

“The eruption has set ablaze the forests around the crater,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

The centre of vulcanology and disaster mitigation has raised the status of the volcano to its highest alert level, advising evacuation for about 28,000 people living within 3.5km of the Tompaluan crater.