NGANCAR, Indonesia, Oct 18 (Reuters) Indonesia remained on high alert today for a possible eruption of a rumbling volcano in eastern Java, but many residents near Mount Kelud refused to leave their homes despite an order to evacuate.
The alert on the volcano, one of Indonesia's deadliest and located 90 km 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 volcano.
But many locals have refused to go, reluctant to leave possessions untended and complaining about inadequate food and shelter provided in safer zones.
''Why should I evacuate? We were not tended to yesterday, why would it be any different today?,'' said Mariyatun, a resident from the village of Sugihwaras.
Sugihwaras, located 7 km from the crater, suffered major losses during an eruption in 1990. More than a hundred of its residents died and lava destroyed much of the village.
''The volcano is not going to erupt. I haven't seen the signs'', added Mariyatun, who like many Indonesians uses one name.
Rescue officials knocked on every door on Wednesday night, urging villagers to go to the shelters, but the trucks brought to take people to shelters left empty.
Experts said the danger was certainly not over, despite a fall in the number of volcanic earthquakes since Tuesday.
''Magma is already very close to the surface and the temperature in the crater lake is rising. It is now over 37 degrees Celsius (98.6F), which is a sharp rise from the previous week,'' Saut Simatupang, an official at Indonesia's Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, told Reuters.
The official said the number of volcanic quakes had fallen from 532 on Tuesday to 151 yesterday. Today morning, there had only been 16 quakes, he said.
A Reuters witness saw fine ash raining down for about an hour on Wednesday night in the village of Ngancar and health officials said that masks had been handed out in some areas.
Simatupang said the ash did not appear to have come from the latest seismic activity.
''We have not observed any clouds of ash coming down the slopes.
That must have been strong wind coming from the east, carrying old ash lying on the edges of the crater,'' he said.
The official said a full eruption could mean that Surabaya was hit by ash clouds, depending on winds, although he said the impact on the industrial city should not be significant.
''But three districts within a radius of 10 kilometres will be severely affected,'' he said.
An estimated 350,000 people live within 10 km of the volcano and when it last erupted in 1990 at least 30 people were killed.
In 1919, about 5,000 died when Kelud 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 AE AS1035