Volcano Calms as Thousands Evacuated

volcano in North Maluku, IndonesiaJAKARTA ~ Activity at a smoldering volcano in North Maluku appeared to ease slightly on Thursday as hundreds more people were evacuated from its arid slopes, geologists and officials said.

Mount Gamkonora, a 1,635-metre-high volcano on Halmahera island has been spewing rocks, ash and smoke into the air since Monday and experts fear an eruption could be imminent.

“In the first six hours of today (Thursday), we have registered only one earthquake due to an eruption and another due to the release of smoke,” said Saud Simatupang, from Indonesia’s volcanology office headquarters in Bandung.

“There are indications that the energy level is weakening,” he said, adding however that heavy cloud obscured the volcano’s peak, making visual observation difficult.

White smoke could only be seen drifting some 200 meters above the crater, he said.

A further 1,100 people were evacuated from 11 villages to safe shelters overnight, Sulaiman, an information officer for North Maluku, said from the capital Ternate.

He said some 9,758 people, or nearly 2,000 families, were sheltering at three designated safe areas, up from more than 8,600 a day earlier. Evacuation operations were ongoing, he added.

The government had sent food, tents, blankets and mats but more help was needed, he said.

Indonesia sits on the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire” where continental plates meet, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity. The archipelago nation has the world’s highest number of active volcanoes.

Gamkonora has erupted 12 times since records have been kept, most recently 20 years ago.

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