Thousands flee as Indonesia's Mt. Sinabung erupts

Evacuated: Thousands displaced residents living around Mount Sinabung were evacuated to Jambur Taras, Berastagi, North Sumatra, on Sunday. Thousands of residents from 12 villages were reported to have fled from their homes after the volcano erupted and sent volcanic ash to their villages.

INDONESIA - Thousands of residents living in 11 villages in Karo regency, North Sumatra, fled to traditional meeting halls or jambur and houses of worship after Mount Sinabung erupted early on Sunday.

As of 1 p.m. local time, waves of people continued to flock to several jambur and houses of worship. Some were evacuated by local authorities in military and police trucks, while the remainder fled on their own initiative.

Ipon Ginting along with his family of six, who live only about 1 kilometer from the volcano, left their home as they were worried about the possible impact of the eruption.

The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry's head of volcanology and geological disaster mitigation, M.Hendrasto, said Mt. Sinabung's status had been increased to alert (level 3) from caution (level 2) due to the increase in activity.

"There is the potential that Sinabung will erupt again, so we are asking locals to remain alert," Hendrasto said, adding that it could not be predicted when the volcano might erupt again.

Karo Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Albert Sianipar said that as a precautionary measure, residents living around Mt. Sinabung were not allowed to return to their homes at this time.

"Residents who live within a radius of 3 km from the volcano are not allowed to go home," Albert said.

He said around 1,500 people were staying in temporary shelters, including the Sempakata and Taras jambur, the Kabanjahe meeting hall, the Kabanjahe Mosque and the Kabanjahe Karo Batak Protestant Church.

Mt. Sinabung last erupted in August 2010, which was its first in 410 years. Thousands of residents fled, while several people died from smoke inhalation.