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Thousands forced to flee Indonesian volcano

Nearly 3,000 flee the slopes of an Indonesian volcano after it spewed ash, smoke and volcanic debris, an official said.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Jakarta
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2007 01:07 PM IST

Some 3,000 people have fled the slopes of an Indonesian volcano after it spewed ash, smoke and other volcanic debris, a local official said on Tuesday.

"Up until Tuesday, some 3,000 people from eight villages on the slopes of Gamkonora have left their homes for safer grounds," said Penta Libela, the deputy district chief of West Halamahera on the island where the volcano lies.

Mount Gamkonora, about 2,700 kilometres (1,600 miles) northeast of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, was on Monday placed on a level three alert, one level below the top warning which signals an imminent eruption.

Ash and smoke shot up as high as two kilometres from the peak on Monday and soared a kilometre into the air Tuesday.

"It is not an official evacuation program. The population panicked because of the eruption and fled on their own and as the local government, we are merely helping by providing more vehicles and assigning temporary shelters," Libela said.

Four villages, each more than 20 kilometres away from the crater, are accommodating most of the displaced.

The 1,635-metre (5,461-foot) volcano was relatively calmer on Tuesday, Libela said.

"There are small eruptions that release volcanic material, including ash, and smoke, but according to the volcanology office, these are not serious eruptions," Libela said.

The ash blanketed some villages on the volcano's slopes on Monday, he said, but he could not immediately say whether the ash was raining on any other areas on Tuesday.

Libela said there were no reports of casualties.

Indonesia sits on the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire," where continental plates meet, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity. The archipelago nation has the world's highest number of active volcanoes.

Gamkonora has erupted 12 times, the most recently in 1987.

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