Indonesia on alert for more eruptions from remote volcano; thousands have been evacuated

People look at the eruption of Mount Ruang volcano on Tagulandang Island in Sitaro, North Sulawesi, on Friday, April 19, 2024. - AFP

TAGULANDANG (AFP): Indonesian authorities were on alert Friday for more eruptions from a remote island volcano that forced thousands to evacuate this week, as nearby residents began clearing debris after molten rocks rained down on their villages.

Mount Ruang erupted nearly half a dozen times in 24 hours beginning late Tuesday, stirring a spectacular mix of fiery orange lava, a towering ash column and volcanic lightning.

While officials said Ruang had started to calm Friday, authorities maintained the highest alert level on a four-tiered system, which indicates high volcanic activity, and told residents to remain more than six kilometres (four miles) from the crater.

"Currently the volcanic activity... is still high, potential dangers that may occur are explosive eruptions producing incandescent rocks in all directions, followed by hot clouds or effusive eruptions (lava flow)," Muhammad Wafid, head of Indonesia's volcanology agency, said in a statement.

Hundreds of locals on neighbouring Tagulandang island were seen cleaning up volcanic material from the harbour and their yards on Friday morning with the help of soldiers and police officers, according to an AFP journalist.

Some described their panic and rush to safety when the eruption began.

"I evacuated. There was a house. I stayed there. And then it rained and rocks fell. I prayed 'God have mercy, please help me God'," Ninice Hoata, a 59-year-old teacher, told AFP on Tagulandang.

White smoke of "low to medium intensity" was seen billowing up to 200 metres (650 feet) above the crater, Wafid said.

Other residents pleaded for more assistance.

"We really need tarpaulin assistance as soon as possible, to temporarily cover the leaking roof," said 64-year-old Herman Sahoa.

"We are worried there will be a follow-up because there is information about that."

Mount Ruang spewing smoke in the Sulawesi island, Indonesia, Friday, April 19, 2024. More people living near the erupting volcano were evacuated on Friday due to the dangers of spreading ash, falling rocks, hot volcanic clouds and the possibility of a tsunami. - APMount Ruang spewing smoke in the Sulawesi island, Indonesia, Friday, April 19, 2024. More people living near the erupting volcano were evacuated on Friday due to the dangers of spreading ash, falling rocks, hot volcanic clouds and the possibility of a tsunami. - AP

- Thousands evacuated -

Houses elsewhere could be seen lying empty and electricity was out in parts of the island, the journalist said.

Officials said Thursday communications had been knocked out on parts of both Ruang and Tagulandang, which is home to around 20,000 people.

Sahid Samihing, a 53-year-old Tagulandang resident, said he feared his belongings would be ruined after volcanic rocks peppered his roof.

"If it's not covered, it will destroy the house," the father-of-three said.

"It was terrifying. No one would not be scared. Everybody was scared. I experienced this event directly."

More than 6,000 residents of Tagulandang had been evacuated to the other side of the island that faces away from the crater, Joikson Sagunde, an official from the Sitaro islands disaster management agency, told AFP.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries but authorities said a day earlier they hoped to evacuate 11,000 people from the exclusion zone.

Monce Brury, head of the Manado search and rescue agency, said a rescue team was at sea to help evacuate those affected to Siau island, an hour away by boat.

The closure of a nearby international airport in Manado city, more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the crater, was also extended to Friday evening, national disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) spokesman Abdul Muhari said in a statement.

Volcanic ash from Mount Ruang was also observed in parts of North Minahasa regency in the north of Sulawesi's main island, he said.

The alert level upheld the exclusion zone around the crater, as well as warnings about further eruptions and parts of the volcano collapsing into the sea that could cause a tsunami.

In 2018, the crater of Mount Anak Krakatoa between Java and Sumatra islands partly collapsed when a major eruption sent huge chunks of the volcano sliding into the ocean, triggering a tsunami that killed more than 400 people and injured thousands.

Mount Ruang's last major eruption was in 2002, when residents also had to be evacuated.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation, experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire". - AFP

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Indonesia , Mount Ruang , eruption , govt alert


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