The threat level of Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano, was raised to its second-highest level Thursday, prompting the emergency evacuation of 500 people.
The volcano, on Indonesia’s Java island, has the potential to erupt at any time, possibly sending lava avalanches and hot gas clouds up to three miles away, the Yogyakarta’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center warned. Its threat level has been raised from advisory to a watch.
In anticipation of a potential explosion, about 500 people — mostly the elderly, pregnant women and children — were evacuated from four villages surrounding the volcano, Al Jazeera reported. They were taken to emergency shelters in the Central Java province.
All tourist activities, including climbing the volcano, have been suspended and only disaster officials and researchers are permitted access to the volcano at this time. Local authorities near the mountain have been asked to prepare mitigation measures for a potential eruption.
Volcanic activity at Mount Merapi has been steadily increasing since June when an eruption sent ash and hot gas about 3.7 miles into the sky. There were no casualties.
“This condition can trigger a magma extrusion process or an explosive eruption,” National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Raditya Jati said, according to The Associated Press.
The volcano’s last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people and caused the emergency evacuation of 20,000 people.
“If the eruption is an explosive eruption, the strength will not be the same as the 2010 eruption,” Hanik Humaida, head of the disaster center said Wednesday, The Jakarta Post reported. “But whether it is effusive or explosive, the eruption of Merapi must be anticipated.”
About 250,000 people live within a six-mile radius of the volcano and could be affected.