A volcano erupted late on Thursday night on the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java, sending a huge plume of ash and sand 10 miles into the air and forcing the closure of three airports.

Mt Kelud is 85 miles (140km) south of Indonesia’s second biggest city, Surabaya, a major industrial centre. The cloud from the eruption was seen far to the west and forced the shutdown of airports at Surabaya and the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo. Airlines in neighbouring countries including Australia said they were cancelling flights to the affected areasand destinations further afield such as Bali, Christmas Island and the Cocos due to the dangers to aviation from the volcanic ash cloud.

“Areas to the west of Mt Kelud, including central Java, Yogyakarta, Cilacap, Magelang, Temanggung and Boyolali are still experiencing showers of ash because last night the biggest eruption … threw sand and ash 17km into the air to the west,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said by telephone.

Cilacap is home to a major oil refinery but there was no immediate word on whether its operations had been affected. Its refineries supply about a third of the country’s fuel needs.

The agency later said the cloud was dissipating and the volcano was no longer erupting.

Nugroho said the agency was still trying to confirm reports that two people had died. “We don’t have data yet on how many people have been evacuated in total. We can say 200,000 people were affected. We received reports of deaths but we have not verified them yet,” he said.

The eruption caused minimal damage to buildings, Sutopo said, but had left 3-5cm of ash and sand on roads. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he planned to visit the area near Kelud…. see more

source: Guardian UK