Updated: Indonesia is the most volcanically-active nation on earth and is home to some of the planet's nastiest fire mountains, as anyone familiar with Krakatoa knows well. So brace yourself, humanity, because a volcano villagers that was thought to have been dormant for a few centuries has rumbled back to life, leading authorities to order evacuations and take country's disaster agency put the volcano on a Level 4 (Caution) alert*.
The volcano in question is Mount Sinabung, which Indonesia's Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said may start to emit more than the reported gravel falling to the ground 5 km from the summit. Areas closer to the peak are experiencing ash, gas and rocks in excess of 200°C.
The agency also warns of the likelihood of lava flows and landslides in the vicinity of the volcano.
According to the Jakarta Post, Karo administration spokesperson Jhonson Tarigan said more than 11,500 evacuees have fled, to date. Some have been in evacuation centres since late September when the volcano, which was inactive for hundreds of years until 2010, began its current round of eruptions.
There are 19 villages and hamlets currently in the evacuation zone, along with a further four that lie southeast of the Mount Sinabung crater opening.
Vulcanologist Surono is quoted in the New York Daily News as saying that the eruption has sent ash as much as 5 km into the air, high enough to affect air traffic in the area.
Simbang is near the location of the prehistoric Toba super-eruption (Wikipedia entry).
Thankfully, nobody has yet suggested that Sinabung is likely to produce a super-eruption, but a large enough blow could reach well past Indonesia's borders, since North Sumatra is close to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, all home to plenty of high-tech manufacturing.
It's a little hard to know how big a threat the volcano poses, because The Register notes that at least in English language sources there seems to be some uncertainty about the Sinabung alert level. The government agency notice we located indicated that the alert level could be raised further, but the Jakarta Post states that the current “red alert” is the highest alert level.
*Update: Thanks to the commentard who directed us to the Jakarta Globe, which carries the announcement that the volcano is now at the highest alert rating: ", the activity status of Mount Sinabung, starting at 10:00 a.m. on Nov. 24, 2013, is raised from ‘Siaga’ (Alert Level III) to ‘Awas’ (Level IV),” the Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation (PVMBG) announced on Sunday." ®
The Register wonders how the Australian government would respond if a genuine disaster right on its doorstep sent a flood of refugee-laden boats in the direction of its north-west coast. Very poorly, we suspect.