One dead, thousands flee as volcano erupts in Indonesia (UPDATE)

One dead, thousands flee as volcano erupts in Indonesia (UPDATE)

One person died and thousands were evacuated Sunday as a volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumatra erupted for the first time in 400 years, shooting black smoke and ash up to 1,500 metres into the air, dpa reported.

   Mount Sinabung in the Karo district of North Sumatra province thundered to life shortly after midnight, shooting lava and other volcanic materials from its crater.

   The government's Directorate of Vulcanology upgraded the volcano's danger status to the highest level minutes before the eruption of the 2,451-metre peak, located about 1,300 kilometres north-west of Jakarta.

   Using trucks, ambulances and buses, local authorities evacuated thousands of residents living in nearby hamlets immediately after the eruption, the state-run Antara news agency reported.

   A 54-year-old man died from a breathing problem on the way to an evacuation centre, Red Cross official Muhammad Irsal, who was helping with the evacuation process, told the German Press Agency dpa.

   Local media quoted residents as saying lava was visible from several kilometres away, including in Berastagi, a tourist area in North Sumatra, while volcanic dust reached as far as the provincial capital of Medan.

   More than 10,000 people in 17 communities were evacuated, Irsal said, adding that they were taking refuge in government buildings and tents had also been erected.

   "At midnight, there was a strong shock - believed to be a volcanic earthquake," Irsal said Sunday. "Immediately after, we saw lava come down from the peak of Sinabung, and fire began to burn the forest at the foot of the mountain."

   He said thick smoke had reduced visibility to up to only 5 metres.

   Firman, a weather forecaster, said the eruption had so far not disrupted flights at Medan's airport.

   The Directorate of Vulcanology said Sinabung's eruption was the first recorded since 1600.

   "Previously, there was no significant activity at the Mount Sinabung volcano, so the monitoring did not take priority since the 1600s," Surono, the head of the directorate, was quoted as saying by Antara.

   Surono, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name, said a team of experts were deployed to keep an eye on Sinabung's activity.

   "We're recommending the residents remain at the evacuation centres until further notice," Surono told MetroTV.

   Besides ordering the evacuations, experts also warned residents to wear face masks against the volcano's ash and told people living along rivers to be alert to the possibility of lava-induced floods.

   Indonesia has the highest density of volcanoes in the world with about 500 in the "Belt of Fire" in the 5,000-kilometre-long archipelago nation. Nearly 130 are active and 68 are listed as dangerous.

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