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Indonesia evacuating thousands from volcano area

Written by: Staff
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JAKARTA, Jun 6 (Reuters) Indonesia has evacuated about 2,000 people from areas at risk from a volcano spewing hot gas and lava, and expects to move thousands more amid signs of increased activity from Mount Merapi, officials said today.

The volcano, on Indonesia's main island of Java and about 450 km east of the capital Jakarta, has been sporadically belching out toxic gases and lava for many weeks, with experts saying a major eruption might come at any time.

''The lava has spread out in various directions. The lava domes are weakening,'' Edi Purwanto of the Mount Merapi evacuation post told Reuters by telephone.

''Since yesterday we have evacuated ... more or less 2,000 people. The people that we need to evacuate are around 11,000,'' he said, adding about half those in danger would be moved by truck over the next two days.

The volcano threatens some of the same areas near the ancient royal capital of Yogyakarta that were hit by a May 27 earthquake which killed 5,782 people.

Some vulcanologists fear the quake may have weakened a large lava dome whose collapse could trigger a massive outpouring of lava and gas.

Officials said today, a cloud of gas from Mount Merapi stretched for 4 km and lava flows had spread up to 7 km from the crater.

Mount Merapi, which killed more than 60 people in 1994 and 1,300 in a 1930 eruption, was placed on top alert status on May 13.

Many villages on Mount Merapi's slopes were evacuated soon after that but when days passed without the feared eruption, thousands of residents returned to their homes.

Although most villagers are Muslim, like many in Java they commonly combine their faith with a belief in mysticism and make offerings to gods and spirits in an effort to prevent the volcano from erupting.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific ''Ring of Fire'' marked by heavy volcanic and seismic activity.

REUTERS SRS HT2322

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