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The volcano we should be worried about

Molten lava spilling from Mount Sinabung as seen from Sukandebi village in Karo, North Sumatra, in August 2017. Picture: Dedi SinuhajiSource:AAP
Molten lava spilling from Mount Sinabung as seen from Sukandebi village in Karo, North Sumatra, in August 2017. Picture: Dedi SinuhajiSource:AAP

WHILE tourists panic over the timing of a volcanic eruption that could destroy swathes of land and create mass chaos in Bali, another deadly enemy has been lurking nearby.

Mount Sinabung, one of Indonesia's 129 active volcanoes, had been inactive for four centuries, but that changed in 2010 when the 2.6km high mountain woke up. It has been erupting and spewing fumes and ash ever since.

The volcano, in the North Sumatra province, has been on top alert since July 2015 when it spewed hot ash for 4km but it has been particularly active in recent months.

The area surrounding it is now a no-man's land.

As recently as Thursday, the volcano spewed an ash column as high as 2km into the sky after it erupted in the early hours, followed by tremors and ash.

The eruption lasted six minutes.

Local news reports describe an "avalanche of hot cloud" that covered a 1.5km radius while authorities warned of the possibility of a cold lava flood, which killed a six-year-old girl last year.

Images of the giant beast could very well be mistaken for hell on earth or a morbid reminder of what's to come, if we're to believe history.

While it has already caused mass death and destruction, no one quite knows when Mount Sinabung's deadly tirade will end - and volcanic areas of Indonesia are now covered in large swathes of no-go volcanic zones. Volcanoes are also notoriously bad-tempered and experts are often unable to accurately predict eruption time frames ahead of time.

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho warned tourists to stay away from the volcano.

"The sad part about that is often times people have moved back inside the danger zone because they say, 'it hasn't erupted, it will be fine' - and then it erupts," Emile Jansons, aviation services manager at the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC), a section of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, told news.com.au.

He said tourists needed to "be aware of your surroundings and understand the situation can change quite rapidly".

"We hope for the best and we prepare for the worst," Mr Jansons said.

More than 30,000 residents from 34 villages were forced out of their home from September 2013 to February 2014 as a result of the eruptions and relocated to new settlement area. A 7km radius has been set around the erupting volcano, but it hasn't stopped the danger risk.

Seven people were killed in one of Sinabung's eruptions last year, while 16 were killed in another eruption in 2014.

Indonesia is the world's most active volcanic region with 127 active volcanoes. The Southeast Asian archipelago lies on the Pacific "ring of fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

Meanwhile, in Bali, Mount Agung, about 75km from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August.

Last month, officials announced the highest possible alert level due to increasing volcanic activity and told people to stay at least 9km away from the crater.

The volcano is yet to erupt, but authorities warn Mount Agung is still simmering and the danger hasn't gone away. Drones are flying in and out to monitor its development inside the crater and across its surrounds.

"This eruption is likely to be catastrophic, spewing lava and ashes at temperatures up to 1250C, posing serious risk to humans and their livelihoods," a group of scientists wrote in The Conversation.

Topics:  australia editors picks indonesia volcano

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