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Volcano spews massive cloud of ash

An Indonesian volcano has spewed a towering cloud of black ash high into the air in its most powerful eruption since awaking last week from four centuries of dormancy.

The latest eruption of Mount Sinabung sent ash and debris shooting three miles into the air, and ash reached as far as Berastagi, a district 15 miles from the base.

Some witnesses at the foot of the volcano reported seeing an orange glow - presumably magma - in cracks along its slopes.

"It was really terrifying," said Anissa Siregar, 30, as she and her two children arrived by truck at an emergency shelter near the base, adding that the mountain shook violently for at least three minutes. "It just keeps getting worse."

Mount Sinabung's awakening with a huge eruption last week caught many scientists off guard. With more than 129 active volcanoes to watch, local vulcanologists had failed to monitor the long-quiet mountain for rising magma, slight uplifts in land and other signs of seismic activity.

There are fears that the current activity could foreshadow a much more destructive explosion in the coming weeks or months, though it is possible, too, that Sinabung will go back to sleep after letting off steam.

More than 30,000 people living along the volcano's fertile slopes have been relocated to cramped refugee camps, mosques and churches in nearby villages.

But some - such as Ms Siregar - have insisted on returning to the danger zone to check on their homes and their dust-covered crops.

Tuesday's eruption happened just after midnight during a torrential downpour. Witnesses said volcanic ash and mud oozed down the mountain's slopes, flooding into abandoned homes, while others saw bursts of fire and hot ash.

The force of the explosion could be felt 5 miles away.

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