Sat, Jul 29, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Thousands of villagers flee Indonesian volcano

TOP ALERT While almost 4,000 people were evacuated after scientists said an eruption may be imminent, many villagers returned home yesterday to tend their fields

AFP , JAKARTA

Thousands of villagers have fled homes lying in the path of red-hot lava flows oozing from Indonesia's Mount Karangetang as the volcano has been put on top alert, officials said yesterday.

The top alert status means that scientists believe an eruption of the volcano, one of the archipelago nation's most active, could be imminent.

More than 3,900 residents from five villages living around the slopes of the 1,784m volcano were evacuated on Thursday and yesterday, said Boy Rompas, a spokesman for the North Sulawesi provincial administration.

Many villagers returned to their homes yesterday to tend their fields but were expected back at the shelters at night, Rompas said.

Local officials will deliver food and medicines to the shelters today, Rompas added.

Saut Simatupang, a vulcanologist with the national vulcanology monitoring office in West Java, said the top alert status was put in place last Saturday due to increasing flows of lava and heat clouds.

As of yesterday, the volcano's lava flows were stretching as far as 1.75km down the volcano's slopes, he said.

"We are continuously monitoring the volcano's activity but fortunately residents there are well-adapted to its activities so they occasionally conduct self-evacuations," he said.

About 16,000 people live in eastern Siau, the area deemed most likely to be affected by any eruption, local officials said.

The volcano is located on Siau Island, about 2,300km northeast of Jakarta and 160km north of Manado, the capital of North Sulawesi province.

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