Thousands ordered to flee as Indonesia on volcano alert

Seismic activity has escalated dramatically at the volcano on the densely populated island of Java, with increasing lava spurts and about 500 multi-phased volcanic earthquakes recorded over the weekend, officials said.

The state office of volcanology had upgraded its alert level to red at 6:00 am (4:30 am IST), signalling an eruption could be imminent."The magma has been pushed up wards due to the escalating seismic energy and it's about a kilometre below the crater," government volcanologist Surono said.

About 19,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate a danger zone of 10 kilometres from the crater of the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) mountain. About 3,000 have already moved to makeshift camps, mostly women, children, and the elderly.

"The evacuation has been underway since this morning. We put a priority on children, women and elderly," field coordinator Widi Sutikno of the main Sleman district on the southern slopes of the mountain told AFP.

Merapi, whose name means "Mountain of Fire", has been blanketed with clouds since the morning. The volcano, which lies 26 kilometres north of the town of Yogyakarta in the centre of Java, is the most active of 69 volcanoes with histories of eruptions in Indonesia.

It last erupted in June 2006 killing two people, but its deadliest eruption occurred in 1930 when more than 1,300 people were killed. Heat clouds from another eruption in 1994 killed more than 60 people.

"It currently has more energy than before the 2006 eruption. We haven't found strong indications that it will erupt explosively as it did in 1930 but there is still a possibility," Surono said.

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