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Thousands more Indonesians flee new volcanic eruption

30 sierpnia, 2010

An Indonesian volcano spewed a vast cloud of smoke and ash high into the air on Monday, disrupting flights and sending thousands more people into temporary shelters, officials said.

Airlines were warned to avoid remote Mount Sinabung in northern Sumatra as it erupted for a second day after springing to life for the first time in four centuries.

"It erupted again at 6:30 am (2330 GMT) and lasted about 15 minutes. The smoke and ash reached at least 2,000 metres (6,600 feet)," government volcanologist Agus Budianto said.

The eruption was bigger than Sunday\'s when 2,460-metre (8,100-foot) Sinabung rumbled into action for the first time since 1600, adding its name to the list of 69 active volcanoes in the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago.

Another 3,000 people arrived at temporary shelters on Monday, bringing the total in government care to 21,000, disaster management official Andes Mbaga said.

Sixteen shelters have been set up to accommodate people who evacuated their villages as ash and stones fell around the fertile farming area early Sunday.

Witnesses said a strong smell of sulphur filled the air and many people fled their homes on foot before receiving the order to evacuate. Authorities have ordered everyone within a six-kilometre (3.7-mile) "danger zone" to leave.

Marsita Sembiring, a vegetable farmer, said she fled Sukanalu village -- which is about four kilometres from the volcano -- with her husband and four children on Sunday.

They spent the day at a shelter in the town of Kabanjahe, 20 kilometres from Sinabung, but returned to the village for the night to protect their home from looters.

"We were in the shelter yesterday but came back late in the afternoon to our village because we were afraid that somebody would steal our belongings," she said.

"It also rained last night and we were sure that the volcano would become calmer, so we decided to stay overnight in our house."

But fresh eruptions Monday convinced her to take her family to safety again, she said.

"This morning it erupted again. We panicked as the smoke was rising very high. I\'m so worried that the smoke is poisonous," the 41-year-old woman said.

Aircraft were ordered to avoid the area and travellers to North Sumatra province were warned of possible delays, transport ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said.

"It may affect flight traffic to and from the province. It all depends on the direction of the wind," he told AFP. Several domestic flights had to be cancelled on Sunday due to the smoke, he said.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity. It has more active volcanoes than any other country.

Television footage showed black smoke shooting up into the sky and lava overflowing from the crater as residents fled the area in pickup trucks and cars.

Disaster Management Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said many residents in four affected villages fled on foot.

"Many had left their homes even before they were evacuated. They said the volcano was spewing thick black smoke, small stones and sulphur," Kardono said on Sunday.

"There\'s little data on Mount Sinabung. The eruption took the experts by surprise. We don\'t know when it might erupt again so, it\'s best for people to stay away until the experts can determine when it\'s safe to go home."

Earlier this month four people went missing after the 1,784-metre Mount Karangetang erupted on the island of Siau, North Sulawesi province.