Indonesia raises aviation warnings after Sumatra volcano emits ash cloud

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia on Monday raised flight warnings around the Mount Sinabung volcano on Sumatra island to their highest level after it sent a towering plume of ash more than 4.4 miles into the air, its biggest eruption this year.

Areas around the crater of the volcano, located about 1,181 miles northwest of the capital, Jakarta, have been off-limits for several years because of frequent volcanic activity.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VACC), in Australia's northern city of Darwin, issued maps on Monday showing an ash cloud heading in three directions from Sinabung, to the north, northwest and south-southeast.

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Mount Sinabung erupts in February 2018
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Mount Sinabung erupts in February 2018
Ash from Mount Sinabung volcano rises to an approximate height of 5,000 meters during an eruption in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia February 19, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Maz Yons/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Ash from Mount Sinabung volcano covers a car and street following an eruption in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia February 19, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/ Surianto Sembiring / via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
TOPSHOT - Indonesian schoolchildren walk together at Sipandak elementary school in Tiga Pancur village in Karo, North Sumatra on February 19, 2018, as thick volcanic ash from Mount Sinabung volcano rises into the air following another eruption. Sinabung roared back to life in 2010 for the first time in 400 years and has remained highly active since. / AFP PHOTO / ANTO SEMBIRING (Photo credit should read ANTO SEMBIRING/AFP/Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Ash from Mount Sinabung volcano rises to an approximate height of 5,000 meters during an eruption as seen from Brastagi town in Karo, North Sumatra, Indonesia February 19, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Tibta Peranginangin/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT.
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Mount Sinabung erupts thick volcanic ash in Karo on Sumatra island on February 19, 2018. An Indonesian volcano erupted February 19, sending a massive column of ash and smoke some 5,000 metres (16,400 feet)into the air, leaving local villages coated in debris and officials scrambling to hand out face masks to residents. / AFP PHOTO / TIBTA PANGIN (Photo credit should read TIBTA PANGIN/AFP/Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
An Indonesian man takes picture of Mount Sinabung volcano as it spews thick volcanic ash into the air in Karo, North Sumatra, on February 19, 2018. Sinabung roared back to life in 2010 for the first time in 400 years and has remained highly active since. / AFP PHOTO / Endro RUSHARYANTO (Photo credit should read ENDRO RUSHARYANTO/AFP/Getty Images)
KARO, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 19: Thick column of suffocating ash spurts 5,000 metres into the air as the volcano Mount Sinabung erupts on the Indonesian island of Sumatra on February 19, 2018 in Karo, Indonesia. Airlines had to issue a 'red notice' as tens of thousands of locals evacuated. (Photo credit should read Lana Priatna / Bacroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Volcanic ash covers clothes strung up on a line after Mount Sinabung erupted in Karo on Sumatra island on February 19, 2018. An Indonesian volcano erupted February 19, sending a massive column of ash and smoke some 5,000 metres (16,400 feet)into the air, leaving local villages coated in debris and officials scrambling to hand out face masks to residents. / AFP PHOTO / LANA PRIATNA (Photo credit should read LANA PRIATNA/AFP/Getty Images)
Thick volcanic ash spews into the air from Mount Sinabung volcano in Karo, North Sumatra, on February 19, 2018. Sinabung roared back to life in 2010 for the first time in 400 years and has remained highly active since. / AFP PHOTO / Endro RUSHARYANTO (Photo credit should read ENDRO RUSHARYANTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Indonesian schoolchildren walk together at Sipandak elementary school in Tiga Pancur village in Karo, North Sumatra on February 19, 2018, as thick volcanic ash from Mount Sinabung volcano rises into the air following another eruption. Sinabung roared back to life in 2010 for the first time in 400 years and has remained highly active since. / AFP PHOTO / ANTO SEMBIRING (Photo credit should read ANTO SEMBIRING/AFP/Getty Images)
A plume of think volcanic ash hangs in the air from Mount Sinabung volcano, taken from the city of Berastagi in North Sumatra on February 19, 2018. Sinabung roared back to life in 2010 for the first time in 400 years and has remained highly active since. / AFP PHOTO / Sugeng NURYONO (Photo credit should read SUGENG NURYONO/AFP/Getty Images)
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Indonesia also upgraded its Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation (VONA) to red, its highest warning, and said the ash-cloud top had reached 23,872 feet, according to a ground observer.

Sinabung is about 47 miles southwest of Kualanamu International Airport in Medan.

Nur Isnin Istianto, head of the regional airport authority, said Kutacane airport in Aceh province had been closed, but the wind direction allowed the airport of Kualanamu, Meulaboh and Silangit to remain open.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia's Disaster Agency, said the eruption began on Monday morning, accompanied by multiple earthquakes and showering surrounding villages with small rocks.

"In five districts it became dark with a visibility of about 5 metres," he said in a statement.

No casualties were reported. The agency urged the public to stay out of a 4-mile exclusion zone around the crater, and watch for further warnings, which could cover floods.

The 8,071-ft tall volcano is among Indonesia's most active. When Sinabung erupted in 2014, more than a dozen people were killed and thousands were evacuated. Prior to recent times, its last known eruption was four centuries ago.

(Reporting by Cindy Silviana; Writing by Fergus Jensen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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