(JAKARTA, Indonesia) — Indonesian authorities raised the alert for the volatile Mount Merapi volcano on the densely populated island of Java and ordered people within 3 kilometers (2 miles) to evacuate.
Merapi has erupted four times since Monday, sending out a 3,500-meter (11,483 feet) column of volcanic material and dusting the surrounding region in ash.
Authorities have handed out thousands of protective masks to people living in several villages in Kemalang district, Klaten, Central Java, after volcanic ash blanketed the area following a string of phreatic eruptions at Mount Merapi from Monday to early Tuesday.
Since the first phreatic eruption occurred two weeks ago, at least 15,000 masks have been distributed for residents in Kemalang.
“Currently, the conditions are still relatively safe. It was a bit worse yesterday [Monday] as slight ash rain fell in the area. The Klaten Disaster Mitigation Agency’s [BPBD] quick response team immediately monitored several villages prone to being impacted by eruptions,” BPBD Klaten head Bambang Gianto said on Tuesday.
Among the villages that might be affected are Balerante and Panggang. Ash rain fell in two villages from 8:30 p.m. local time to 9 p.m. on Monday.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the national disaster mitigation agency’s spokesman, said some 660 people living within the exclusion zone have evacuated since early Tuesday.
Indonesia’s geological agency raised Merapi’s alert from normal to “beware,” because of its increased activity.
There have been no reports of casualties and operations at Adi Sucipto airport in Yogyakarta have not been affected.
The 2,968-meter (9,737-foot) mountain is about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Yogyakarta city center. About a quarter million people live within a 10 kilometer radius of the volcano, according to figures from authorities in surrounding districts. Its last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people and caused the evacuation of 20,000 villagers.
Nugroho said climbing on Merapi is prohibited and only disaster agency personnel or related researchers should enter the restricted area.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Indonesian government seismologists monitor more than 120 active volcanoes.
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