Indonesia's Mt. Sinabung Eruption Kills at Least 14

At least 14 people were killed Saturday following a major eruption of an active volcano on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, just a day after thousands of villagers living nearby were allowed to return to their homes.

Authorities say the dead on Mount Sinabung included a school teacher and four students. Officials say they fear the death toll will rise, once lethal heat clouds disperse and rescuers are able to comb through the disaster area.

The 2,460-m high volcano has been erupting for four months, spewing columns of ash kilometers into the air and sending lava and deadly gases down its southern slopes.

Since September, authorities had evacuated more than 30,000 people, housing them in tent encampments and nearby schools.

Villagers flee as Mount Sinabung releases pyroclastic flows during an eruption in Namantaran, North Sumatr on Feb. 1, 2014. /AP Villagers flee as Mount Sinabung releases pyroclastic flows during an eruption in Namantaran, North Sumatr on Feb. 1, 2014. /AP

Indonesia's state-controlled Antara news agency said disaster officials on Friday ruled that thousands of villagers living outside a 5-kilometer radius of the crater could return to their homes and farms, because no recent significant volcanic activity had been recorded.

Sinabung is one of nearly 130 active volcanoes in the world's most populous country, a sprawling archipelago that straddles the "Ring of Fire" volcanic belt that encircles much of the Pacific Ocean.

Mount Sinabung had been dormant for four centuries. According to Reuters, Indonesian officials increased volcano status on Nov. 24, following increased activity.

Indonesia's most deadly volcanic eruption in recent years was of Mount Merapi, near the densely populated city of Yogyakarta in central Java. It erupted in late 2010, killing more than 350 people.

Some information for this report comes from AP and Reuters.

VOA News / Feb. 03, 2014 07:45 KST