MAUROLE, Indonesia – A volcano on a tiny Indonesian island that erupted at the weekend and killed five people spewed more clouds of red-hot ash on Monday, as hundreds of villagers were evacuated to safety.
Mount Rokatenda, on Palue island in East Nusa Tenggara province, was belching out columns of smoke up to 100 meters high, an AFP journalist on the nearby island of Flores said.
“The activity inside the volcano is still high,” said Surono, a government volcanologist who like many Indonesians goes by one name, warning Rokatenda could erupt violently again.
On Saturday the volcano threw scorching ash two kilometers into the sky and unleashed molten lava onto a beach, killing three adults and two children as they slept.
Rescuers have been battling through roads blocked by ash to reach affected areas and persuade reluctant villagers to leave their homes. More than 500 have so far been taken off the island to a camp in Maumere, on Flores.
“There are a lot of people here who seem to be traumatised due to the eruption,” said Bakri Kari, a member of the rescue team from the local disaster agency.
“Many lost their homes after they ran in a panic. People are in despair.”
Six motor boats were being used to evacuate people and the government had sent aid to help those displaced, including masks and blankets, said national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
“Since the eruption on Saturday, 511 people living near the Rokatenda volcano have been evacuated from Palue island to Maumere,” he said.
Yosep Ansarera, head of Sikka district, of which Palue is part, said that those evacuated came from two villages.
However, he added: “Dozens of people remain in their villages, refusing to be evacuated as they don’t want to leave their livestock and homes.”
Many of those evacuated came from inside a three-kilometre exclusion zone around the crater.
Authorities had urged people to leave the exclusion area before the eruption and banned all activities inside but many had refused to abandon their homes.
Officials still hope to evacuate another 2,500 people but Kari said rescue efforts were proving difficult as “a lot of infrastructure has been damaged”.
Rokatenda had been showing signs of increased activity since October and erupted several times before Saturday.
Some 2,000 people had already been evacuated to Flores before the weekend eruption, leaving around 8,000 people on the island.
Indonesia has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines known as the “Ring of Fire” between the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The country’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi in central Java, killed more than 350 people in a series of violent eruptions in 2010.