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Indonesia's Merapi volcano spews hot clouds, 500 evacuate

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Mount Merapi spews volcanic steam from its crater seen from Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. The 2,968-meter (9,737-foot) mountain spewed avalanches of hot clouds on Thursday morning amid its increasing volcanic activities. (AP Photo/Taufiq Rozzaq)

JAKARTA – Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano spewed avalanches of hot clouds Thursday morning as hundreds more residents were evacuated from its fertile slopes.

Authorities evacuated more than 500 people living on the mountain in Magelang district on Java Island. Thousands of people already have had to leave their homes and farmland because of the dangers on Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano.

Light eruptions continued during the day — one sending a column of hot clouds rising 200 meters (yards) into the air. The initial eruption was obscured by fog, but using seismic and other data, the Geological Disaster Technology Research and Development Center estimated the hot clouds spread less than 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from the crater.

“Until now, the potential danger is not more than 5 kilometers (3 miles),” chief of Yogyakarta’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center, Hanik Humaida, said in a statement.

The geological authority had raised the alert level of Mount Merapi to the second-highest level in November after sensors picked up increasing activity. Tourism and mining activities were halted.

Some evacuees had returned to the slopes after the activity subsided but had to leave again Thursday.

The 2,968-meter (9,737-foot) mountain is about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Yogyakarta city center. About a quarter million people live within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the volcano, according to authorities in surrounding districts.

Merapi spewed ash and hot gas in a column as high as 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) into the sky in June, but no casualties were reported.

Its last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people and caused the evacuation of 20,000 villagers.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Government seismologists monitor more than 120 active volcanoes.