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June 23, 2017

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Volcano spews more hot ash, lava in east Indonesia; 6 killed

MAUMERE, Indonesia -- A volcano spewed more hot ash and lava on a tiny Indonesian island Monday after causing six deaths over the weekend.

More than 500 Palua island residents who had earlier refused to leave the 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) exclusion zone around Mount Rokatenda have been evacuated to the neighboring island of Flores, said Mutiara Mauboi, an official at the command post.

The bodies of two children who were among six people killed by lava as they slept early Saturday have not been recovered.

"There is no more searching for the victims. The main activity now is evacuation," Mauboi said from her office in the town of Maumere. "All of the residents in eight villages on Palua have to be moved gradually."

The eruptions were smaller Monday but the potential danger was high because the volcano continues to release hot gas clouds, said government volcanologist Surono, who uses only one name like many Indonesians. Molten lava and ash have covered most of Palue, an island in East Nusa Tenggara province with only a 4-kilometer radius.

"Mount Rokatenda remains on high alert," Surono said. "There has been no significant decline in activity."

About a quarter of Palua's 12,000 people moved to Flores after the volcano began erupting last October, said Tini Thadeus, head of the local disaster agency, adding the government has agreed to build new houses for the displaced.

The six victims this weekend were among residents who had refused to leave last year when the safety zone was established, he said, adding that many who stayed believed in old customs that requires their presence to keep lava from destroying villages, Thadeus said. Among the dead was a 58-year-old woman, the grandmother of the two children.

During past eruptions dating to the 1930s, lava had typically flowed south, but this time it moved north toward the beaches where the victims slept, he said.

Mount Rokatenda is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands that's home to 240 million people. The country is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.

A 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck off Indonesia's eastern coast Monday about 872 kilometers (541 miles) northeast of the volcano.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, said Suhardjono of the Indonesian Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, adding it had no potential to cause a tsunami. The quake was 92 kilometers (57 miles) deep and the epicenter was 189 kilometers (117 miles) west north west of Saumlaki town in Maluku province.

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