An explosive volcanic eruption on Indonesia’s most populous island has blasted ash and debris 18km (12 miles) into the air, killing two people while forcing authorities to evacuate more than 100,000 and close six airports.
The overnight eruption of Java island’s Mount Kelud could be heard up to 200km (125 miles) away, Indonesia’s disaster agency said.
“The eruption sounded like thousands of bombs exploding,” Ratno Pramono, a 35-year-old farmer, said after returning from an evacuation centre to check on his property in the village of Sugihwaras, around 5km (three miles) from the crater.
“I thought doomsday was upon us. Women and children were screaming and crying.”
Ash and grit fell to earth in towns and cities across the region, including Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city after Jakarta, with a population of about three million. It also fell even farther afield in Yogyakarta, where motorists switched on headlights in daylight, and lay 5cms (two inches) deep in some places.
A 60-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman were killed in the village of Pandansari near the mountain when the roofs of their homes collapsed under the weight of the ash and volcanic debris unleashed during the eruption.
The large international airport in Surabaya and airports in the cities of Yogyakarta, Solo, Bandung, Semarang and Cilacap were closed due to reduced visibility and the dangers posed to aircraft engines by ash.
Virgin Australia said it had cancelled its Friday flights from Australia to several locations due to the eruption, including the resort islands of Bali in Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand.
The disaster agency said tremors were still wracking the volcano, but that scientists didn’t expect another major eruption.
It said all villages within 10km (six miles) of Kelud – more than 100,000 people – had been evacuated to temporary shelters, but that some villagers were returning to their homes to begin cleaning up.
The 1,731-metre-high (5,680ft) Mount Kelud in eastern Java – Indonesia’s most densely populated island and home to more than half of the country’s 240 million people – has been rumbling for several weeks and was under close observation. The mountain is about 600km (370 miles) east of Jakarta, the capital.
Muhammad Hendrasto, head of Indonesia’s volcano monitoring agency, said the mountain erupted violently about 90 minutes after authorities raised its alert status to the highest level.
The disaster agency said it had spewed millions of cubic metres of debris into the atmosphere.