Jakarta (AFP) – Indonesian villagers living in the shadow of one of the world’s most active volcanoes fled to safety Friday as the crater erupted, sending a cascade of ash and smoke some 5,000 metres (16,400 feet) into the sky.
The government ordered residents living within a five-kilometre (three-mile) radius of Mount Merapi on Java island to leave as ash covered surrounding communities and even reached parts of Yogyakarta, Indonesia’s cultural capital some 30 kilometres away.
Officials have shuttered the city’s international airport with eight flights cancelled following the early morning eruption, which began about 7:30 am (1230 GMT).
It was not clear how many residents living around Merapi had left for local shelters, but around 12,000 people live in its immediate vicinity.
Some 120 people who were hiking on the mountain when the eruption happened are safe, the government said.
Merapi previously erupted in 2010, forcing 280,000 people to flee and killing more than 300 in what is considered its most powerful eruption since 1930.
But officials said Friday’s eruption was much less serious and a result of pressure buildup inside the crater.
“This kind of eruption is not dangerous and could happen anytime to any active volcano,” national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement.
The volcano’s alert status was unchanged.
The Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and islets — and nearly 130 active volcanoes — is situated on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a vast zone of geological instability where the collision of tectonic plates causes frequent quakes and major volcanic activity.