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Indonesia volcano causes tsunami threat

11,000 people evacuated after eruptions of a volcano at Mount Ruang triggered a tsunami alert by authorities
This handout photograph taken and released by the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation on April 17 shows Mount Ruang spewing hot lava and smoke as seen from Sitaro, North Sulawesi.

This handout photograph taken and released by the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation on April 17 shows Mount Ruang spewing hot lava and smoke as seen from Sitaro, North Sulawesi. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 18, 2024 04:57 AM GMT
Updated: April 18, 2024 05:06 AM GMT

Indonesian rescuers raced to evacuate thousands of people on April 18 after a volcano erupted five times, forcing authorities to close a nearby airport and issue a warning about falling debris that could cause a tsunami.

The crater of Mount Ruang flamed with lava against a backdrop of lightning bolts overnight after erupting four times on April 17, forcing authorities to raise its alert level to the highest of a four-tiered system.

The volcano in Indonesia's outermost region was still billowing a column of smoke on April 18 morning, prompting authorities to shut the nearest international airport in Manado city on Sulawesi island for 24 hours.

The airport runways were shut "due to the spread of volcanic ash which could endanger flight safety," Ambar Suryoko, head of the Manado region airport authority office, said in a statement.

The airport hosts airlines that fly to Singapore and cities in South Korea and China.

"All flights... impacted," Dimas, a 29-year-old airport officer in Manado told AFP by phone.

Authorities said they were rushing to evacuate 11,000 residents from the nearby area that included the remote island of Tagulandang, home to around 20,000 people.

Some residents were already trying to flee in a panic, according to officials.

"Last night people evacuated on their own but without direction due to the volcano's eruption and materials in the form of small rocks that fell, so the people scattered to find evacuation routes," Jandry Paendong, an official from the local search and rescue agency, said in a statement on April 18.

He said 20 staff were helping evacuate residents along the coastline near the volcano on rubber boats.

He called for more boats and equipment so his team could "carry out evacuation for people in the coast or near the coast" facing the volcano.

Tourists and residents were warned to remain outside a six-kilometer exclusion zone.

More than 800 people were initially taken to safety from Ruang to nearby Tagulandang island after the first eruption on April 16 evening before four more eruptions on April 17.

Tsunami warning 

Authorities also warned of a possible tsunami as a result of the eruptions.

"The communities in Tagulandang island, particularly those residing near the beach, [need] to be on alert for the potential ejection of incandescent rocks, hot clouds discharges and tsunami caused by the collapse of the volcano's body into the sea," Hendra Gunawan, head of Indonesia's volcanology agency, said in a statement April 17.

The authorities' fears were compounded by previous experience.

In 2018, the crater of Mount Anak Krakatoa between Java and Sumatra islands partly collapsed when a major eruption sent huge chunks of the volcano sliding into the ocean, triggering a tsunami that killed more than 400 people and injured thousands.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation, experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc where tectonic plates collide that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

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