Thousands evacuated as Indonesia volcano erupts, causes tsunami threat

Indonesian rescuers raced to evacuate thousands of people Thursday after a volcano erupted five times, forcing authorities to close a nearby airport and issue a warning about falling debris that could cause a tsunami.

The crater of Mount Ruang flamed with lava against a backdrop of lightning bolts overnight after erupting four times on Wednesday, forcing authorities to raise its alert level to the highest of a four-tiered system.

The volcano in Indonesia's outermost region was still billowing a column of smoke on Thursday morning, prompting authorities to shut the nearest international airport in Manado city on Sulawesi island for 24 hours.

Authorities said they were rushing to evacuate 11,000 residents from the nearby area that included the remote island of Tagulandang, home to around 20,000 people.

Some residents were already trying to flee in a panic, according to officials.

"Last night people evacuated on their own but without direction due to the volcano's eruption and materials in the form of small rocks that fell, so the people scattered to find evacuation routes," Jandry Paendong, an official from the local search and rescue agency, said in a statement Thursday.

He said 20 staff were helping evacuate residents along the coastline near the volcano on rubber boats.

He called for more boats and equipment so his team could "carry out evacuation for people in the coast or near the coast" facing the volcano.

Tourists and residents were warned to remain outside a six-kilometre exclusion zone.

More than 800 people were initially taken to safety from Ruang to nearby Tagulandang island after the first eruption on Tuesday evening before four more eruptions on Wednesday.

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