Thousands flee erupting volcano in Indonesia

Volcanic ash destroys 26,000 hectares of farmland as Sumatra remains on high alert from active Mount Sinabung.

The relentless eruptions of a west Indonesian volcano have forced almost 18,000 people to flee their homes.

Residents living within a five-kilometre radius of the volcano remained on high alert on Wednesday, as Mount Sinabung spewed columns of ash and gas 2,000 metres high.

Sinabung, the tallest volcano in North Sumatra, has destroyed an estimated 26,000 hectares of farmland since September.

“The number of displaced increased a lot because we lifted the alert level,” said national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

The number of evacuees increased by 5,000 in one day, but many farmers remained.

Tomato farmer David Barus told Al Jazeera he had to sell his volcanic-ash-covered produce half-price to pay for his children to attend school.

“All the men try to still work to earn money, although it’s dangerous,” he said.

Farmers had yet to receive any help from the government.

Ash has gone as far as 80 kilometres from the mountain and workers have rushed to move coffee plants to safer grounds.

Sinabung is one of dozens of active volcanoes in Indonesia, which straddles major tectonic fault lines known as the “Ring of Fire”.

Officials said the volcanic ash did not disrupt flights at the Medan airport, but there had been some delays because of safety issues.

A representative of the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said Tuesday had been dominated by volcanic tremor activities in windy conditions, noting the volcano’s activity was “still high.” 

‘Raining down rocks’

Thousands fled after one of the most violent eruptions, accompanied by a loud thunderous sound and vibrations on the weekend, local government official Robert Peranginangin said.

“People panicked,” he said.

“Then it started raining down rocks.”

In August, five people were killed and hundreds evacuated when a volcano on a tiny island in East Nusa Tenggara province erupted.

Mount Merapi in central Java, the country’s most active volcano, killed more than 350 people in a series of violent eruptions in 2010 and showed signs of low activity last week.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies