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Volcano erupts in Indonesia, 100,000 evacuated, airports closed

Source: Reuters - Fri, 14 Feb 2014 07:16 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A man wears a mask as he rides a becak, a kind of rickshaw, on a road covered with from Mount Kelud, in Yogyakarta February 14, 2014 REUTERS/Dwi Oblo
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By Fergus Jensen and Kanupriya Kapoor

JAKARTA, Feb 14 (Reuters) - A volcano erupted on the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java, sending a huge plume of ash and sand 17 km (10 miles) into the air and forcing the evacuation on Friday of more than 100,000 people and closure of five airports.

Indonesia's national disaster agency ordered the evacuation of all the families living within a 10-km (6-mile) radius of Mount Kelud. The volcano is 90 km (54 miles) south of Indonesia's second biggest city Surabaya, a major industrial centre.

"Over 100,000 people have been evacuated," National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said by telephone.

He said the eruptions had ceased, but the ash had spread as far as 500km (312 miles) to the west and northwest, causing more problems, especially for airlines.

Mount Kelud is one of 130 active volcanoes in the the world's fourth most populous country. And the agency estimated that up to 200,000 people living in its vicinity had been affected by the eruption, and some families were still being brought out of the evacuation zone.

The cloud from the eruption forced the shutdown of airports at Surabaya and the cities of Yogyakarta, Solo, Malang and Semarang in East Java and Central Java provinces, stranding thousands of passengers.

Local television networks showed images of cities and grounded airplanes blanketed in a layer of ash.

Other airports, including Denpasar on the resort island of Bali, were unaffected, so far, according to Garuda Indonesia , the national flag carrier.

Visibility in some affected areas dropped below 10 metres and schools were closed, while volunteers distributed masks and food to evacuees pouring into shelters.

As ash fell on the world's largest Buddhist temple Borobudur in Yogyakarta nearly 135 km away, authorities began covering stupas and statues of Buddha with plastic sheets, according to local media reports.

"Areas to the west of Mount Kelud, including central Java, Yogyakarta, Cilacap, Magelang, Temanggung and Boyolali are still experiencing showers of ash, because last night the biggest eruption ... threw sand and ash 17 km into the air," Nugroho said.

OIL REFINERY UNAFFECTED

Operations were unaffected at a major oil refinery in Cilacap run by state-owned energy company Pertamina, officials said. The refinery, with a capacity of 348,000 barrels per day, accounting for a little more than a third of Indonesia's total output of refined products.

"Thankfully, Cilacap operations are normal, although ash has indeed reached the Cilacap area," said Pertamina spokesman Ali Mundakir. "As a preventative measure, we have immediately prepared air filters for equipment there."

East Java is the main area in Indonesia for sugarcane plantations, but officials expected limited damage to crops.

"The eruption will affect sugarcane plantations, but the impact is relatively small," Soemitro Samadikoen, chairman of Indonesian Sugarcane Farmers Association told Reuters. "With this very small impact and high stock (in the domestic market) we do not need to import white sugar from other countries."

The disaster mitigation agency later said the cloud was dissipating and that the volcano was no longer erupting.

Nugroho said the disaster mitigation agency had confirmed two people were killed by the collapse of roofs due to the weight of the fallen ash.

The eruption otherwise caused minimal damage to buildings, Nugroho said, but had left 3 to 5 cm (1 1/2 to 2 inches) of ash and sand on roads.

Mt Kelud is just one of nearly 130 active volcanoes in the world's fourth most populous country.

At least 11 people were killied earler this month in the north of the island of Sumatra when Mount Sinabung erupted. The volcano has been spewing lava and ash for months, forcing thousands to flee the area and destroying crops.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in a message on Twitter that he planned to visit the area near Kelud. (Additional reporting by Yayat Supriatna, Fathiyah Darul, Wilda Asmarini; Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Ron Popeski and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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