Fri, Oct 26, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia hit by volcanic eruption, 7.1 earthquake


A volcano erupted in central Indonesia yesterday, shooting plumes of white smoke and sand 1,500m into the air and covering nearby villages in ash, officials said.

Violent tremors sent farmers tilling land near Mount Soputan's crater fleeing before the blast, said Sandy Manengke, a local monitoring official, adding that there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The nearest villages are 8km from the crater's mouth, well clear of the danger zone, he said, but many houses were covered in black soot and residents wore face masks to protect themselves against the smoke.

Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any other nation because of its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" -- a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

Mount Soputan, 2,160km northeast of Jakarta, is one of its most active. But the 1,780m high volcano rarely spews lava, Manengke said.

Earlier, before dawn yesterday, a powerful earthquake rocked western Indonesia, jolting people from their sleep and sending them fleeing by car and foot. Authorities briefly issued a tsunami warning, but the feared wave never came.

The 7.1-magnitude quake struck 135km west of Bengkulu, a coastal town off Sumatra, the US Geological Survey said. It hit 30km beneath the ocean floor.

Residents in Bengkulu -- still jittery following a series of powerful quakes that struck the region early last month -- fled their homes, some jumping into cars or onto motorcycles, el-Shinta radio reported.

There were no reports of damage after the tremor, which struck at 4am, according to Arizal, a local meteorological official, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

Last month, an 8.4-magnitude quake off Bengkulu that followed two tremors measuring 7.8 and 7.1, killed 23 people and destroyed thousands of buildings.

The region has since been hit by hundreds of aftershocks.

Suhardjono, a senior official at Indonesia's Meteorological and Geophysics Agency, told el-Shinta that yesterday's earthquake was among them.

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