[Updated at 1:29 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2014]
Hundreds of thousands of Indonesians were ordered to evacuate Friday after a volcano in East Java erupted spectacularly, hurling red hot ash and rocks over a huge distance.
The alert status for Mount Kelud, considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes on densely populated Java, was raised late Thursday just hours before it began erupting.
There have been no confirmed deaths from the eruption, National Disaster Agency (BNPB) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
He said his team was trying to verify reports of two deaths.
“Juanda Airport in Surabaya, Adisumarmo Airport in Solo and Adisucipto Airport in Yogyakarta are still closed,” he said.
“Areas to the west of Mount Kelud including Central Java, Yogyakarta, Cilacap, Magelang, Temenggung and Boyolali are still experiencing showers of ash because last night the biggest eruption… threw sand and ash 17 kilometers into the air to the west.”
TV pictures showed ash and rocks raining down on nearby villages as terrified locals fled in cars and on motorbikes towards evacuation centers.
Ahmad Yani Airport in Semarang and Abdul Rahman Saleh Airport in Malang were also closed, news portal Metrotvnews.com reported.
The eruption had caused minimal damage to buildings, Sutopo said, but had left three to five centimeters of ash and sand on roads.
He said that some 200,000 people from 36 villages in a 10-kilometer area around Kelud, in the Kediri district, were being asked to evacuate.
“Sparks of light can be continuously seen at the peak,” he said.
The 1,731-meter Mount Kelud has claimed more than 15,000 lives since 1500, including around 10,000 deaths in a massive 1568 eruption.
It is one of some 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean.
Earlier this month another volcano, Mount Sinabung on western Sumatra island, unleashed an enormous eruption, leaving at least 16 people dead.
Sinabung has been erupting on an almost daily basis since September, coating villages and crops with volcanic ash and forcing tens of thousands out of their homes.
Agence France-Presse & Reuters