Thousands flee volcanic eruption in Indonesia

Mount Sinabung in the Karo district of North Sumatra province thundered to life shortly after midnight, shooting lava and other volcanic materials from its crater.Indonesia's state-run Directorate of Vulcanology upgraded the volcano's danger status to the highest level minutes before the eruption of the 2,451-metre peak, located about 1,300 km northwest of Jakarta.

Using trucks, ambulances and buses, local authorities evacuated thousands of residents living in nearby hamlets immediately after the eruption, the state-run Antara news agency reported.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.Local media quoted residents as saying lava was visible from several kilometres away, including in Berastagi, a tourist area in North Sumatra.

The Directorate of Vulcanology said Sinabung's eruption was the first recorded since 1600."Previously, there was no significant activity at the Mount Sinabung volcano, so the monitoring did not take priority since the 1600s," Surono, the head of the directorate, was quoted as saying by Antara.

Surono, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, said a team of experts were deployed to keep a close eye on Sinabung's activity.Besides ordering the evacuations, experts also warned residents to wear face masks to avoid health problems from the volcano's ash and told people living along rivers to be alert to the possibility of lava-induced floods.

Indonesia has the highest density of volcanoes in the world with about 500 in the "Belt of Fire" in the 5,000-km-long archipelago nation. Nearly 130 are active and 65 are listed as dangerous.

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