JAKARTA • Rescuers in Indonesia were dispatched yesterday to evacuate nearly 400 tourists, most of them foreigners, after a volcano erupted at one of the country's most popular hiking destinations, an official said.
Mount Barujari began erupting on Tuesday afternoon, sending columns of ash and smoke shooting 2km into the sky over Lombok island, a tourist hot spot to the immediate east of Bali.
Nearly 400 people were recorded as hiking near Barujari - a smaller cone within the crater of Mount Rinjani - when it began erupting, prompting plans for their immediate evacuation, said National Disaster Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
"A rescue team has been sent to Mount Rinjani to evacuate the tourists. They set off on Wednesday morning," he said.
Hikers have been told to keep at least 3km from the smouldering volcano, a key attraction on the multi- day trek to the summit of Mount Rinjani that is made by thousands of tourists every year.
Mr Nugroho said 389 hikers were recorded as having entered the national park since Sunday, the majority of them foreigners.
While most would have taken the official route to the summit, rescue teams suspect some hikers may have gone off-piste, he added.
The threat level of the volcano was upgraded on Tuesday as Barujari sent plumes of smoke and hot ash into the atmosphere, but remains two steps from the highest-risk category.
Farms and trees around the 3,726m volcano were coated in a thin layer of grey ash, but nearby towns and villages were not in danger, Mr Nugroho said.
There were no flight disturbances recorded due to the ash clouds, Transport Ministry spokesman Hemi Pramuraharjo said yesterday.
Some flights to and from the nearby resort island of Bali were cancelled overnight, but Lombok's international airport is unaffected.
Flight disruptions due to drifting ash clouds are not uncommon in Indonesia, which sits on a belt of seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire and is home to 130 active volcanoes.
An eruption at Mount Rinjani last month forced the closure of Lombok airport and disrupted some flights to neighbouring Bali.