TANAH KARO, Indonesia — Tens of thousands of people packed emergency shelters Monday after a long-dormant volcano in western Indonesia spewed clouds of hot ash and smoke more than a mile into the air — an eruption that caught scientists off-guard.
The eruption of Mount Sinabung put the region on the highest alert level, and some domestic flights had to be diverted because of poor visibility.
Villagers living along Sinabung's fertile slopes in North Sumatra province started heading down the 8,000-foot volcano when it began rumbling during the weekend.
An explosion Sunday was followed by a much more powerful blast Monday, and the number of people who evacuated reached 30,000, and hastily abandoned homes and crops were blanketed in gray ash. The air was thick with the smell of sulfur.
Two people died, but Priyadi Kardono of the National Disaster Management Agency said it was too early to say whether the volcano was to blame.
Sinabung last erupted in 1600, and officials acknowledged that they had not been monitoring the volcano because it had been dormant for so long.
The monitoring post nearest to Sinabung is at Mount Merapi, 240 miles away, "so we were totally in the dark. We didn't know anything until it started rumbling," government volcanologist Imam Simulingga said.