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Volcano erupts, kills at least 14 in Indonesia after evacuees told safe to return home

Digital writers

Saturday, February 1, 2014, 4:38 PM -

An Indonesian volcano that has been rumbling for months unleased a major eruption Saturday, killing 14 people just a day after authorities allowed thousands of villagers who had been evacuated to return to its slopes, saying that activity was decreasing, officials said. 

Among the dead on Mount Sinabung were a local television journalist and four high-school students and their teacher who were visiting the mountain to see the eruptions up close, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho. At least three other people were injured, and authorities feared the death toll would rise. 

Sinabung in western Sumatra has been erupting for four months, sending lava and searing gas and rocks rolling down its southern slopes. Authorities had evacuated more than 30,000 people, housing them in cramped tents, schools and public buildings. Many have been desperate to return to check on homes and farms, presenting a dilemma for the government.

SEE ALSO: Have you ever heard a volcano scream? Click here to listen to the haunting sounds.

On Friday, authorities allowed nearly 14,000 people living outside a five-kilometre (three-mile) danger zone to return home after volcanic activity decreased. Others living close to the peak have been returning to their homes over the past four months despite the dangers. 

On Saturday, a series of huge blasts and eruptions thundered from the 2,600-meter-high volcano, sending lava and pyroclastic flows up to 4.5 km away, Nugroho said. Television footage showed villages, farms and trees around the volcano covered in thick grey ash. 

Following the eruption, all those who had been allowed to return home Friday were ordered back into evacuation centres. 

The death toll is likely to rise as many people are reported still missing and the darkness hampered our rescue efforts, ''said Lt. Col. Asep Sukarna, who led the operation to retrieve the charred corpses some three kilometres from the volcano's peak.

ANOTHER LOOK: Click here to see what an erupting volcano looks like from space!

The latest eruptions came just a week after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited displaced villagers in Sinabung and pledged to relocate them away from the mountain. Villagers are attracted to the slopes of volcanoes because the eruptions make for fertile soil. 

Sinabung's last major eruption was in August 2010, when it killed two people. Prior to that it had been quite for four centuries. 

Files from The Associated Press

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