JAKARTA - Indonesia on Monday (Feb 19) raised flight warnings around the Mount Sinabung volcano on Sumatra island to their highest level after it sent a towering plume of ash more than 7 kilometres into the air, its biggest eruption this year.
Areas around the crater of the volcano, located about 1,900 km northwest of the capital, Jakarta, have been off-limits for several years because of frequent volcanic activity.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VACC), in Australia’s northern city of Darwin, issued maps on Monday showing an ash cloud heading in three directions from Sinabung, to the north, northwest and south-southeast, Reuters reported.
Indonesia also upgraded its Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation (VONA) to red, its highest warning, and said the ash-cloud top had reached 23,872 feet (7,276 metres), according to a ground observer, Reuters said.
Sinabung, which has been rumbling since 2010, is about 75 km southwest of Kualanamu International Airport in Medan.
Nur Isnin Istianto, head of the regional airport authority, said Kutacane airport in Aceh province had been closed, but the wind direction allowed the airport of Kualanamu, Meulaboh and Silangit to remain open, Reuters said.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Disaster Agency, said the eruption began on Monday morning, accompanied by multiple earthquakes and showering surrounding villages with small rocks.
“In five districts it became dark with a visibility of about 5 metres,” he said in a statement. No casualties were reported.
The agency urged the public to stay out of a 7-km exclusion zone around the crater, and watch for further warnings, which could cover floods. The 2,460-metre tall volcano is among Indonesia’s most active.
The ash covered villages and crops near the volcano. Residents in the area said they felt strong tremors.
"I was spraying potato plants when Sinabung erupted. I only felt the tremors aftet it erupted. The first one was big and was then was followed by smaller ones a number of times. It was like the volcano was going to break," farmer Mr Nelson Kliat, 28, told The Straits Times in Sebintun hamlet, 5km from the volcano.
When Sinabung erupted in 2014, more than a dozen people were killed and thousands were evacuated. Prior to recent times, its last known eruption was four centuries ago.
Indonesia is home to around 130 volcanoes due to its position on the "Ring of Fire", a belt of tectonic plate boundaries circling the Pacific Ocean where frequent seismic activity occurs.