Indonesians on maximum alert for volcanic eruption

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KEDIRI, Indonesia, Oct 17 (Reuters) Fears of an imminent eruption prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents near Indonesia's Mount Kelud today, but many flouted the order stayed at their homes around the rumbling Javanese volcano.

The alert on the volcano, one of Indonesia's deadliest and located 90 km (55 miles) southwest of its second-largest city, Surabaya, was raised to maximum late on Tuesday, meaning it could erupt within 24 hours.

Authorities had ordered the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from a 10-km zone near the 1,731-metre (5,712-foot) volcano, a statement from the National Agency for Disaster Management said.

''The volcano is still on highest alert. I advise people to stay in the shelters and to be patient,'' Surono, head of Indonesia's Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, told Reuters.

''This morning we only spotted 50 volcanic quakes, whereas we had 300-500 quakes the previous day. But we will not let ourselves be deceived by Mount Kelud,'' said Surono, who like many Indonesians uses one name.

Surono, the country's top volcano expert, said that before the volcano erupted in 1990, when at least 30 people were killed, the number of volcanic earthquakes reached 327.

In Kampung Anyar, about 7 km from the crater and within a zone deemed by authorities as dangerous, many villagers were at home.

''It's not certain if Mount Kelud would ever go off. My parents and my siblings are at home at the moment. I'm going off to see some friends,'' said Marsudi, a resident in the village, who evacuated and then returned to his home.

''Whenever we're asked to evacuate, we will do so. But we came back simply because nothing happened.'' PLANTATION WORKERS In another timber plantation area closer to the crater, three workers dressed in sarongs planted teak seedlings.

''We are not afraid, because the signs weren't there,'' said Sumilah, adding that she believed signs of an eruption included loud noises made by grasshoppers, starless night skies, very hot weather and dark rain clouds.

In another area, residents sheltering in the district of Kediri complained of inadequate supplies of food and water.

Many were also reluctant to leave behind possessions untended, particularly their animals.

An estimated 350,000 people live within 10 km of the volcano, growing coffee, sugar cane, pineapples and papayas on the rich volcanic soil or feeding their cattle on the slopes.

Sigit Rahardjo, a spokesman for the Kediri district government, said some people were likely to return to the shelters later in the day.

''Last night we managed to evacuate 28,000 people, but some have returned to their homes because they think it's not going off.'' Kelud is one of Indonesia's most deadly volcanoes. An eruption in 1919 killed about 5,000 as it ejected scalding water from its crater lake.

Indonesia, which sits on a belt of intense seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, has had a series of major volcanic eruptions over the centuries.

Reuters PD GC1452

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