The eruptions of Mount Merapi has killed hundreds since 1930 [AFP] 

Indonesian authorities have evacuated thousands of people from a region around a volcano that is threatening to erupt on the island of Java.

Seismologists said on Monday that Mount Merapi could erupt at any time, and its alert status has been raised to red, the highest level.

"The magma has been pushed upwards due to the escalating seismic energy and it's about a kilometre below the crater," Surono, a government volcanologist, said.

Authorities have ordered 19,000 residents within a danger zone of 10km from the crater to leave.

About 3,000 people are already living in temporary camps due to the threat posed by the volcano.

Frequent threats

"The evacuation has been under way since this morning. We put a priority on children, women and elderly," Widi Sutikno, a field co-ordinator of the main Sleman district, told the AFP news agency.

Step Vassen, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Jakarta, the capital, said: "Most residents are still in their villages. That's because this happens a lot, this volcano is erupting many times in the last couple of years and people have been evacuated only to have to return home.

"So people are quite reluctant to leave.

"The most dangerous part of this volcano is very hot clouds released by the mountain that can reach up to 500 degrees Celsius and they have a high speed of up to 200 km per hour. And these clouds have killed the most people in the last year."

Mount Merapi last erupted in 2006, killing two people. However, 60 people died in 1994 and in 1930 1,300 people were killed in eruptions.

Yanto, a 38-year-old resident, said he would stay in his village in order 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."

There are about 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies