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HindustanTimes.com » World » Rest of Asia » Story
Thousands flee as Indonesian volcano spews into life

Aditya Rinaldo (AFP)

Mount Talang (Indonesia), April 12, 2005|14:46 IST

A volcano spewed into life on Tuesday on Indonesia's disaster-blighted Sumatra island, spreading new panic after the recent tsunami and earthquakes and driving thousands from their homes.

Mount Talang, 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Sumatra's coastal Padang city began pumping out volcanic ash shortly before dawn, prompting scientists to urge people to move away from the fall-out zone.

More than 20,000 people have been evacuated from the volcano's slope, the Antara news agency quoted local official Bustamar saying. It said the volcano's status had been raised to "beware", one rung below full-blown eruption.

Vulcanologist Gede Suwantika described Talang's activity as "serious" saying there was a risk of molten magma and clouds of super-heated gas that burn everything in their path.

"This is what I worry, that this activity will be followed by a larger eruption that is magmatic in nature," he said.

"Heat clouds could also descend, and this is what is risky as they can reach several kilometres" he said.

An AFP photographer at the 2,599 metre (8,680 foot) volcano said a narrow road leading to the mountain was clogged by people deserting the area, which was shrouded in thick fog.

Elfi Sahlan Ben, an official in Talang's Solok district, told the Detikcom news website that ash was being carried by winds further down the slopes while strong gaseous odours were permeating the air around the mountain.

The volcano's activity comes just two days after the city of Padang was gripped with fear following a powerful 6.7 magnitude quake that caused only minor damage but revived memories of last year's deadly Indian Ocean tsunami.

On Monday the city's offices and schools were deserted, with many people having left the town to seek refuge on higher ground, their unease fuelled by rumours and scientific reports of another impending disaster.

A massive earthquake struck off the southwest coast of Sumatra on March 28, killing more than 600 people on the offshore islands of Nias and Simeulue - most of the victims crushed by collapsing concrete structures.

On December 26 last year, a 9.3-magnitude shockwave from the same geological faultline unleashed a tsunami that destroyed vast tracts of coast in Sumatra's westernmost Aceh region and left more then 160,000 dead or missing.

The Indonesian archipelago sits atop a series of faultlines where three continental plates collide with immense pressure, causing almost daily earthquakes and frequent eruptions from more than 130 active volcanoes.

Though inured to seismic activity, thousands of Indonesians, particularly on Nias and Simeulue, have been spooked by the recent quakes and rumours of another imminent disaster and have sought refuge on higher ground.

Last month a prominent seismologist said he could not rule out the risk of a third big quake off Sumatra, although the exact timing of the event could not be predicted.

According to Fauzan, a geophysicist with the meteorology and geophysics agency, Talang's eruption is directly linked to the recent seismic activity off Sumatra's shores.

"Tectonically speaking, it is true that there are links between tectonic activities in the Indian Ocean and volcanic activities in Sumatra," he said.

He said the massive December quake had activated Leuser Mountain, a volcano in Aceh province along the same range of peaks as Talang, while the Nias quake had sparked activity in lake Toba, an ancient crater in Sumatra.

Talang has had at least four major eruptions, all in the 19th century, and three smaller eruptions in 1981, 2001 and 2003.

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