Indonesia volcano: Residents flee as Mt Semeru spews huge ash cloud

Residents on the Indonesian island of Java have been fleeing a vast plume of ash as an active volcano erupted for the second time in months.

Witnesses said a thick rain of volcanic ash from Mt Semeru was blotting out the Sun in two local districts.

No casualties have yet been reported and evacuations are under way, officials said.

Meanwhile a monitoring body issued a warning to airlines of an ash cloud rising up to 15,000m (50,000 ft).

The eruption took place at about 14:30 local time (07:30 GMT). Local authorities have set up a restricted zone of 5km (3 miles) from the crater after the eruption.

Thoriqul Haq, a local official, told Reuters that a road and bridge from the area to the nearby city of Malang had been severed.

“This has been a very pressing, rapid condition since it erupted,” he said.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in Darwin, Australia said the ash appeared to have detached from the summit and was drifting south-west over the Indian Ocean.

The VAAC provides advice to the aviation industry about the location and movement of potentially hazardous volcanic ash.

Map

Campbell Biggs, a meteorologist at the VAAC, told the BBC that the 15,000m plume was higher than the cruising altitude for most aircraft and would cause most flights in the vicinity to divert their flight paths to avoid it.

Ash that solidifies on cooler parts of plane engines can disrupt airflow, which can lead to engines stalling or failing completely.

It also affects visibility for the pilots and can affect air quality in the cabin – making oxygen masks a necessity.

Mt Semeru was quite an active volcano that regularly spewed ash up to about 4,300m, so Saturday’s eruption was a “pretty significant increase in intensity”, Mr Biggs said.

The ash cloud should slowly dissipate, he said.

Mt Semeru rises 3,676m above sea level and previously erupted last December, forcing thousands of residents to seek shelter.

It is among Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes.

Indonesia is on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where continental plates meet causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity.

Footage on social media showed residents running away as a giant ash cloud rose behind them.

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