Thousands flee as Indonesian volcano spews smoke, ash

Residents gathering to watch as Mount Ili Lewotolok erupted on Sunday, sending a thick tower of debris 4km into the sky, in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Residents gathering to watch as Mount Ili Lewotolok erupted on Sunday, sending a thick tower of debris 4km into the sky, in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • Thousands have fled the area around a rumbling Indonesian volcano that has burst into life for the first time in several years, belching a massive column of smoke and ash, the country's disaster agency said yesterday.

The evacuation of more than 4,400 residents came as Mount Ili Lewotolok erupted on Sunday, sending a thick tower of debris 4km into the sky and triggering a flight warning as well as the closure of a local airport.

The crater's last major eruption was in 2017.

There have been no reports of injuries or damage from the eruption in a remote part of the country.

But the authorities advised residents to wear masks to protect themselves from the volcanic ash spouting from the crater in East Nusa Tenggara - Indonesia's southernmost province - and to be alert for possible lava flows.

"To minimise the health impact from volcanic ash, it is recommended that people wear a mask or other equipment to protect their eyes and skin," said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Raditya Jati.

A 2km no-go zone around the crater was also expanded to 4km after Sunday's eruption, while airlines were advised to steer their flights clear of the area as volcanic ash rained down on the local Wunopitu airport, which was temporarily closed.

Indonesia is home to about 130 active 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.

In late 2018, a volcano in the strait between Java and Sumatra islands erupted, causing an underwater landslide that unleashed a tsunami which killed more than 400 people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2020, with the headline 'Thousands flee as Indonesian volcano spews smoke, ash'. Print Edition | Subscribe