More than 76,000 people fled their homes and flights were grounded across most of Indonesia’s densely populated island of Java on Friday after a volcanic eruption sent a huge plume of ash and sand 17 kilometres into the air.
The ash cloud from Thursday night’s 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 kilometres south of Indonesia’s second biggest city, Surabaya, a major industrial centre. It 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.
Mr. Nugroho said the eruptions had ceased, but the ash had spread as far as 500 kilometres to the west and northwest.
Television-broadcast images showed planes, streets and houses blanketed in a thick layer of grey ash.
At the world’s largest Buddhist temple outside Yogyakarta, nearly 135 kilometres away, workers rushed to cover statues with plastic sheets to protect them from the falling ash.
Other airports, including Denpasar on the resort island of Bali, were so far unaffected, according to flag carrier Garuda Indonesia.
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 a day, accounts for a little more than a third of Indonesia’s total output of refined products.
East Java is the main area in Indonesia for sugarcane plantations, but officials expected limited damage to crops.
Mr. 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, he added.
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.