A major volcanic eruption in Indonesia has shrouded a large swathe of the country’s most heavily populated island in ash, triggering the evacuation of about 200,000 people and closing three international airports.
Indonesia’s disaster agency said two people died on Friday in the overnight eruption of Java’s Mount Kelud, considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the island.
“A rain of ash, sand and rocks” reached up to 15km from the volcano’s crater, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told the Agence France-Presse news agency. “Sparks of light can be continuously seen at the peak.”
The smell of sulfur and ash hung so thickly in the air that breathing was painful.
Nugroho said about 200,000 people from 36 villages in eastern Java were being asked to evacuate.
Television pictures showed ash and rocks raining down as terrified locals fled in cars and on motorbikes towards evacuation centres.
Booms could be heard at least 130km away in Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city, and even further afield in Jogyakarta.
Kediri, a normally bustling town about 30km from the mountain, was largely deserted as residents stayed indoors to avoid the choking ash.
“The smell of sulfur and ash hung so thickly in the air that breathing was painful,” Kediri resident Insaf Wibowo told the Associated Press news agency.
Two people were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed under the weight of the ash and volcanic debris, the disaster agency said.
Tremors on Friday continued to wrack the volcano, which had been rumbling for weeks, but scientists did not expect another major eruption.
Ring of Fire
The 1,731-metre Mount Kelud has claimed more than 15,000 lives since 1500, including around 10,000 deaths in a massive 1568 eruption.
The last major eruption was in 1990, when the volcano kicked out searing fumes and lava that killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds.
It is one of some 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean.
Earlier this month another volcano, Mount Sinabung on western Sumatra island, unleashed an enormous eruption , leaving at least 16 people dead.
Sinabung has been erupting on an almost daily basis since September, coating villages and crops with volcanic ash and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.