© Reuters. People look at volcanic ash as it fills the sky during the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java Province, Indonesia December 4, 2022 in this photo taken from a television station. Instagram/@Gustiallah Foundation/via REUTERS
By Stefanno Sulaiman and Angie Teo
JAKARTA (Reuters) – A volcanic eruption in Indonesia on Sunday sent a cloud of ash 15 kilometers into the air and forced the evacuation of around 2,000 people, officials said, as they issued their highest warning for the eastern region of Java island.
There were no immediate reports of injuries from Mount Semeru’s eruption and Indonesia’s transport ministry said there were no problems with flights but alerts were sent to two regional airports to be on alert.
“Many roads have been closed since this morning and now volcanic ash is falling and covering the mountain,” Bayu volunteer Deny Alfianto told Reuters by telephone near the mountain.
Semeru, Java’s tallest volcano, erupted last year killing more than 50 people and displacing thousands.
Indonesia’s disaster management agency (BNPB) said 1,979 people had been evacuated to 11 shelters and authorities had distributed masks to residents. The explosion began at 2:46 am (1946 GMT Saturday) and rescue, search and evacuation operations were underway.
The ash plume reached a height of 15 kilometers, said the Meteorology Agency in Japan, which had earlier warned that the volcano could trigger a tsunami. It later denied that.
The eruption, located 640 kilometers (400 miles) east of the capital Jakarta, followed a series of earthquakes in West Java, including one last month that killed more than 300 people.
Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, PVMBG, has raised the level of volcanic activity and warned people not to come closer than 8 km (5 miles) from Semeru’s crater.
It said the hot ash cloud had moved about 19 kilometers from the center of the eruption.
PVMBG head Hendra Gunawan said the amount of magma would have increased compared to the previous eruptions of the volcano, in 2021 and 2020, which could mean a serious danger to a large area.
Semeru’s hot clouds can reach far and wide where there are many houses,” he said.
In a video sent to Reuters by local police, villagers were seen moving away from the mountain’s slopes, some with belongings loaded onto motorbikes. The damaged bridge was covered in volcanic ash.
With 142 active volcanoes, Indonesia has the world’s highest population of people living near active volcanoes, with 8.6 million people living within 10 kilometers of one.
The deadly earthquake in late November that hit West Java was a magnitude 5.6 but very deep. A 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck Saturday that sent people fleeing their homes but did not cause much damage or injury.