Facebook Twitter

Indonesia villagers told to leave volcano area

Merapi spews ash, sand as lava flows spread 4 miles

SHARE Indonesia villagers told to leave volcano area

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia — Several thousand villagers living near Indonesia's Merapi volcano in central Java were ordered to leave their homes on Saturday after it spewed sand and smoke across a wide area, officials and witnesses said.

No casualties were reported despite lava flows spreading four miles from the mountain.

One local government official said around 3,000 people living on the west and eastern sides of the mountain had been ordered to leave.

"We have sent trucks to start evacuating around 3,000 villagers," he told Reuters by telephone.

Local volcanologist Ratdo Mopurbo said the highest warning had been issued to residents.

"Technically, this is not an eruption," Mopurbo said, but he added: "We have raised it to the highest warning level so all villagers near the mountain have been told to evacuate."

Merapi, 250 miles east of Jakarta, is one of the world's most active volcanoes.

For one hour around dawn, the volcano spewed out sand and dust while smoke rose three miles into the air.

Merapi, near the ancient city of Yogyakarta, has been rumbling for weeks and some locals fear it could erupt.

The volcano's most destructive eruption this century was in 1930, when 1,300 people were killed.

The volcano, about 12 miles from Yogyakarta, a city of 2 million people, lies in one of the country's densely populated areas.

Many Indonesians see activity in Mount Merapi in the mystical heartland of Java as an omen of a looming political eruption.

Local residents have been watching for smoke and lava in recent weeks amid mounting pressure on President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Residents believe such emissions herald upheavals like a leader's downfall.

"The mountain began to spew hot gas and lava on Feb. 1 the day when parliament began debating the financial scandals linked to Wahid," local resident Asril said.

Indonesia's parliament censured Wahid on Feb. 1 over links to two financial scandals.

The rebuke opens the way for impeachment proceedings but many analysts play down such an outcome saying it would be a complex and arduous process.

Thousands of villagers were evacuated in January 1997 when Merapi became more active, just months before the Asian financial crisis struck.

Most Javanese, who make up the bulk of Indonesia's 210 million people, are Muslim, but many cling to a spiritual past and believe a supernatural kingdom exists on top of Merapi.