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Mt Kelud Erupts in Indonesia, 100,000 Forced to Evacuate as Ash Blankets Java

Feb 14, 2014 10:58 AM EST

Mount Kelud erupted late Thursday on Indonesia's Java island, forcing more than 100,000 to flee their homes and killing at least three others. A blanket of ash - up to 5 centimeters thick in some cases - forced regional airports and major tourist destinations, such as the Borobudur and Prambanan temples, to close, according to media reports.

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) issued an evacuation warning about an hour before the volcano - which had been grumbling for days - erupted, for people living within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of Mt. Kelud. The BNPB said that 100,248 people were evacuated to 293 evacuation sites, according to the Jakarta Post.

Two people died of smoke inhalation and a third died from falling debris, according to CNN.

The eruption sent a plume of volcanic ash and gas up to 15 kilometers (9 miles) in the air, which blanketed distant cities in ash. As seen in photos published Friday, workers used tarpaulins to cover the iconic stupas and statues at the world's largest Buddhist temple, Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the central Javan city of Yogyakarta.

Borobudur along with Prambanan temple and Ratu Boko palace, two other popular tourists destinations, were closed Friday because of heavy ash.

Mt. Kelud, a 1,731-meter (5,000 ft) stratovolcano, spewed ash and gravel that rained down upon cities up to 200 km (124 mi) away.

The ash blanketed the cities of Solo, Yogyakarta and Surabaya, forcing airports there to close temporarily.

"All flights to those airports have been canceled, and other flights, including some between Australia and Indonesia, have been rerouted," Transport Ministry director general of aviation Herry Bakti told the AFP.

"We will reassess the situation tonight regarding reopening the airports, but at the moment, it's too dangerous to fly anywhere near the plume," he said.

Airport officials worry that volcanic debris could damage aircraft engines, according to the BBC.

"The current conditions are that volcanic ash is now covering the runway, apron and tarmac. We have already measured the thickness of the volcanic ash, which is at 5cm on the runway and tarmac," Andi Wirson, general manager at the Yogyakarta airport, told the BBC Friday.

Mt. Kelud has a long history or eruptions dating back to the year 1500. To date, it has taken the lives of more than 15,000 people, the majority of whom died in a massive 1568 eruption.

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