A man wears a mask as he rides a becak, a kind of rickshaw, on a road covered with ash from Mount Kelud. REUTERS/Dwi Oblo
More than 76,000 people fled their homes and flights were
grounded across most of Indonesia's densely populated island
of Java after a volcanic eruption sent a huge plume of ash
and sand 17km into the air.
The ash cloud from Thursday night's (local time) eruption of
Mount Kelud in the province of East Java moved west over the
island, forcing the closure of seven airports and stranding
thousands of passengers. The only major airports still
operating on Java were two in the capital, Jakarta.
"Based on verified data, over 76,000 people have been
evacuated from five cities around the volcano ... and about
200,000 people were affected," National Disaster Mitigation
Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said in a text message.
Mount Kelud is 90 km (54 miles) south of Indonesia's second
biggest city Surabaya, a major industrial centre. Its airport
was closed, along with those of Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo,
Malang, Semarang and the major oil refinery town of Cilacap.
They were expected to reopen on Saturday morning, a transport
ministry official told reporters.
Mount Kelud is one of 130 active volcanoes in the world's
fourth most populous country, which sits along the "Ring of
Fire" volcanic belt around the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Nugroho said the eruptions had ceased, but the ash had spread
as far as 500 km (312 miles) to the west and northwest.
Television broadcast images of planes, streets and houses
blanketed in a thick layer of grey ash.
At the world's largest Buddhist temple outside Yogyakarta,
nearly 135 km (84 miles) away, workers rushed to cover
statues with plastic sheets to protect them from the falling
Other airports, including Denpasar on the resort island of
Bali, were so far unaffected, according to flag carrier
OIL REFINERY UNAFFECTED
Operations were unaffected at a major oil refinery in Cilacap
run by state-owned energy company Pertamina, officials said.
The refinery, with a capacity of 348,000 barrels per day,
accounts for a little more than a third of Indonesia's total
output of refined products.
"Thankfully, Cilacap operations are normal, although ash has
indeed reached the Cilacap area," said Pertamina spokesman
Ali Mundakir. "As a preventive measure, we have immediately
prepared air filters for equipment there."
East Java is the main area in Indonesia for sugarcane
plantations, but officials expected limited damage to crops.
"The eruption will affect sugarcane plantations, but the
impact is small," Soemitro Samadikoen, chairman of Indonesian
Sugarcane Farmers Association told Reuters. "With this very
small impact and high stock (in the domestic market) we do
not need to import white sugar from other countries."
Nugroho said the disaster mitigation agency had confirmed two
people were killed after roofs collapsed under the weight of
the fallen ash.
The eruption otherwise caused minimal damage to buildings,
Nugroho said, but had left 3 to 5 cm (1-1/2 to 2 inches) of
ash and sand on roads.
At least 11 people were killed earlier this month in the
north of the island of Sumatra when Mount Sinabung erupted.
The volcano has been spewing lava and ash for months, forcing
thousands to flee the area and destroying crops.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in a Twitter message
that he planned to visit the area near the volcano, but gave
no further details.