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Thousands flee fury of Indonesia volcano

Sumatra island put on highest alert status as Mount Sinabung spits plumes of ash, gravel and gas 5,000m into the air.

Last updated: 24 Nov 2013 16:06
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Residents near Sinabung volcano have reported it 'raining rocks' over a large area [AFP]

Indonesia has ordered the evacuation of 15,000 people from their homes near an active volcano as it pushed up the alert for emergency to the highest levels.

Officials on Sunday raised the alert for Mount Sinabung, on Sumatra, after it began throwing clouds of ash, gravel and gas as high as 5,000m, according to government volcanologists. No casualties have been reported so far.

"We have raised the status to 'caution', which is the highest of levels for volcanic activity because we anticipate
there will be more eruptions and because the intensity of eruptions has been increasing," the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said in a written statement.

About 6,000 people have already been moved from the area, 88km from Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, and were placed in 16 safe locations. Authorities narrowed the evacuation radius to 5km from 3km and the military geared up to move residents out.

Deadly eruptions

About 12,000 evacuees from eight villages around the mountain were packed Sunday in crowded government camps away from the crater, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the disaster agency.

Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the transport ministry, said airlines had been notified to avoid routes near the mountain.

Sinabung, which has been dormant for three years, has erupted repeatedly since September. It is one of nearly 130 active volcanoes in the world's fourth-most populated country, which straddles the "Pacific Ring of Fire".

The most deadly eruption in recent years was of Mount Merapi in 2010, near the densely populated city of Yogyakarta in central Java. More than 350 people were killed.

The volcano's last eruption, in August 2010, killed two people and forced 30,000 others to flee. It caught many scientists off guard because it had been quiet for four centuries.

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