Dormant Indonesian Volcano Awakens With a Fiery Roar

JAKARTA, Indonesia, August 30, 2010 (ENS) – Some 12,000 people fled the slopes of Indonesia’s Mount Sinabung Sunday as the long-dormant volcano on the island of Sumatra erupted fiery lava and thick clouds of smoke.

The eruption was the first in 400 years from Mount Sinabung, which rises 2,460 meters (8,070 feet) above sea level in agricultural Tanah Karo district, North Sumatra province.

Mount Sinabung erupts after more than 400 years of silence. August 29, 2010 (Photo by Marc)

Two people lost their lives during the evacuation, one from a heart attack and the other from respiratory failure, according to Aiman Syafruddin, who heads the North Sumatra operations center.

Aiman deployed 300 people to evacuate residents of the Karo district and the police also provided trucks to take people out of harm’s way.

Two others were injured in road accidents as trucks, ambulances and buses scrambled to transport people to safety.

On Saturday, the Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation issued a warning and ordered evacuation of a 6 km (3.7 miles) radius around the volcano.

Muhammad Irsal, a member of the disaster mitigation task force of the Indonesian Red Cross told the Antara news agency Sunday, “We felt strong tremors last night. It was a volcanic quake. After that, the crater of Mount Sinabung spewed glowing heat lava.”

“Trees in the mount slopes were burnt, following thick clouds that caused visibility to be only five meters. We soon helped locals to evacuate to safer locations,” Irsal said.

The number of evacuees climbed to more than 21,000 as the volcano erupted again on Monday, said Priyadi Kardono of Indonesia’s National Disaster Coordination Agency. Shelters are overloaded, he said, but the agency has sent food and gas masks to the evacuees.

Residents are warned to wear face masks to keep from breathing the volcano’s ash and people living along rivers are warned to watch out for possible lava-induced floods.

Officials worry that if the eruption continues, the clouds of smoke and ash, billowing up to 2,000 meters (6,561 feet) high, could disrupt aviation. But to date services at the regional airport, Polonia International Airport in the city of Medan, are still operating normally.

The Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center said the volcanic ash ejected into the air would not interfere with flights.

Indonesia has the highest density of volcanoes in the world with about 500 in the Pacific Ring of Fire The volcanoes in Indonesia are among the most active with 130 considered active and 68 listed as dangerous, but Mount Sinabung was quiet for more than 400 years. The last known eruption had occurred in the year 1600.

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