Mount Lokon in Tomohon, North Sulawesi, released its most powerful eruption yet on Sunday as it spewed hot ash and smoke more than 3,000 meters into the air, prompting alarmed villagers near the volcano to rush back to emergency shelters.
The North Sulawesi Disaster Mitigation Center ( BPBD ) reported an increase in volcanic activity since morning.
“Mt. Lokon remains active. The volcano spewed out sand close to the crater early in the morning,” North Sulawesi BPBD chief Hoyke Makarawung was quoted as saying by news portal kompas.com.
Toward the afternoon, the volcano sent ash and volcanic debris flying 3,500 meters into the air. The volcanic ash emitted by the explosion also created a 500 meter cloud visible from nearby Manado, the provincial capital.
The strength of the volcano’s eruptions has intensified progressively, leading authorities to raise the alert status to the highest level.
On Thursday, the volcano shot volcanic debris 1,500 meters into the air, but this was followed by a dip in volcanic activity on Saturday.
Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center ( PVMBG ) chief Surono said it was too early to know whether this latest eruption would be followed by a decrease in volcanic activity.
“We are hoping this [latest eruption] has eased the pressure building up behind the magma dome and that we will now start seeing a decrease in activity,” he said.
The powerful eruption on Sunday sent villagers fleeing down the slopes in cars and motorcycles. Police and soldiers rounded up villagers and took them down the slopes in trucks.
“It was huge,” Henny Lalawi, who picks beans at a coffee plantation, told The Associated Press.
“It sounded like a bomb and then I saw the crater burst, sending ash high into the air. It was pretty awesome, really,” she added.
Disaster Management Agency ( BNPB ) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said there were no reports of injuries or new deaths as of Sunday.
The eruption occurred amid plans by the Tomohon administration to relocate evacuees who have sought shelter in schools. Nearly 5,000 evacuees have taken refuge in government shelters while others have taken shelter in the houses of residents living outside the danger zone.
The danger zones, based on PVMBG assessment, include areas within Kinilow and Kakaskasen subdistricts.
Coordinating People’s Welfare Minister Agung Laksono visited shelters and announced that the government would disburse Rp 500 million ( US$58,500 ) to help the evacuees.
BPBD’s Hoyke called on residents to be discerning when receiving information on the volcano to avoid falling prey to scaremongers.
“Information on developments on Mt. Lokon from the administration as well as related [government] institutions can be treated as accurate,” he said.
Mt. Lokon was placed on heightened alert status late last year by the PVMBG. In addition to Mt. Lokon, the PVBMG lists 18 other active volcanoes under this second highest status as well, including North Sumatra’s Mt. Sinabung and West Java’s Mt. Papandayan.