A volatile volcano in central Indonesia unleashed its most powerful eruption yet today, spewing hot ash and smoke thousands of feet into the air and sending panicked villagers racing back to emergency shelters. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Mount Lokon, located on northern Sulawesi island, has been dormant for years but rumbled back to life late last week. Surono, a government volcanologist who uses only one name, said today's 10:35am eruption released the greatest amount of energy so far, shooting soot and debris 11,400 feet into the sky.
"We're hoping this helped ease pressure building up behind the magma dome and that we'll now start seeing a reduction in activity," he said. "But it's too early to know." More than 33,000 people live along the slopes of Mount Lokon, taking advantage of fertile soil to grow cloves and coffee. Despite warnings that the mountain was still not safe, some had returned early today to tend to their crops and livestock. The powerful explosion sent them racing back down the slopes, some jumping into cars and motorcycles, others rounded up by soldiers and police and escorted down in trucks. (Read more Indonesia volcano stories.)