Indonesians urged to flee volcano after alert raised

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NGANCAR, Indonesia, Oct 17 (Reuters) Thousands of residents near Indonesia's Mount Kelud camped out in shelters today after the alert status was raised to maximum on the volcano in a densely populated part of Java island.

But some residents ignored an evacuation order by authorities and returned to their homes at the foot of the rumbling volcano, one of Indonesia's deadliest and located 90 km (55 miles) southwest of its second-largest city, Surabaya.

Authorities had ordered the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from a 10 km (6 mile) 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.

Some 900 people from four villages near the volcano packed into 20 shelters overnight in the district of Kediri, located more than 10 km from the crater, but this morning some decided to ignore authorities and head back to their homes.

''We are hungry and thirsty. We were not tended to overnight. If Mount Kelud has not erupted, I'd better head home now.'' said Sutar, a resident of Sugihwaras village, 5 km (3 miles) from the crater.

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

''The animals didn't show any strange behaviour,'' said Katiran, an 81-year-old farmer from Sugihwaras, referring to the reaction often attributed to animals ahead of big seismic events.

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.

Setio Sutarmo, a duty staffer at the disaster agency, said preparations were in place for the evacuated residents after the alert level on the rumbling volcano was raised yesterday.

''The Social Ministry has prepared all the necessary logistics such as food, cooking utensils and baby food,'' the official said.

But a Reuters witness said around half the 3,000 people in shelters set up for those evacuated from Tawang Vilage near the volcano had left the site because they had no food.

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 RN RS0925

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