A volcano has erupted in central Indonesia and authorities have warned planes about volcanic ash in the air.
Mount Soputan in North Sulawesi province spewed ash 6,000 meters into the sky Wednesday morning (local time). No evacuations were immediately ordered.
A government volcanologist suspects the eruption was triggered by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake in Central Sulawesi.
"It could be that this earthquake triggered the eruption, but the direct correlation has yet to be seen as there had been an increase in the Mount Soputan activity," the volcanologist, Kasbani, told online news portal Tempo.
Kasbani, who uses one name and leads the Vulcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation agency, said volcanic activity had been increasing at Soputan since August and began surging Monday. "It is possible that the quake accelerates (the eruption)," he added.
Soputan's eruption status was raised from an alert to standby 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the summit and up to 6.5 kilometers to the west-southwest. Standby status means the public should avoid the area nearest the volcano and have masks available in the event of ashfall.
Planes were warned of the ash clouds because volcanic ash is hazardous for plane engines, howvever, disaster agency BNPD says it will not impact flights at this stage.
Sam Ratulangi International Airport, located southeast of the volcano, will operate as usual for now.
Face masks to help residents deal with the ash have been issued to the community.
"The community does not need to evacuate because they are still safe," the latest alert reads.
"Within a 4km radius there is no settlement. So it's still safe."
The BNPD says the current alert for Mount Soputan is a level 3 "standby", which means the community should not be active in all areas within a 4km radius of it speak.
Nearby communities have been advised to prepare for rain ash but remain calm.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the situation was being monitored.
"At this stage are not aware of the Soputan volcano eruption adversely impacting aid delivery to the tsunami affected regions in Central Sulawesi," the spokesperson said.
ALMOST 1407 KILLED IN TSUNAMI-QUAKE AFTERMATH
Friday's earthquake and tsunami disaster in central Sulawesi has killed at least 1407 people according to disaster response officials, prompting Australia to send emergency healthcare support to the region.
More than 50 Australian medical professionals will be sent to Indonesia to help in the aftermath, as part of the $5m package.
"We will be working very closely with the Indonesian government to make sure that the support we are providing is highly targeted," Defence Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Washington.
Australia's foreign affairs department has been asked whether the eruption of Mt Soputan will affect aid being sent to Palu, they are yet to provide comment.
Australia has also offered emergency relief supplies including shelter, water and hygiene kits, as well as to deploy defence force personnel to assist the Indonesian Government with their response.
It's understood the Indonesian authorities are still considering what resources they will need as the remoteness of the area and loss of communications infrastructure continues to makes it difficult to assess the full scale of the disaster at this stage.
Meanwhile, trucks carrying food for desperate survivors have rolled in with a police escort to guard against looters.
The United Nations and relief agencies have now sent in more reinforcements to help the decimated region.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said on Tuesday that "needs are vast" for the devastated country, with Indonesians urgently requiring shelter, clean water, food, fuel and emergency medical care.
In the days after the magnitude 7.5 earthquake and tsunami struck, supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine had yet to reach the hardest-hit areas outside Palu, the largest city that was heavily damaged. Many roads in the earthquake zone are blocked and communications lines are down.
"We feel like we are stepchildren here because all the help is going to Palu," said Mohamad Taufik, 38, from the town of Donggala, where five of his relatives are still missing.
"There are many young children here who are hungry and sick, but there is no milk or medicine."
National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the death toll was expected to rise.
Hundreds of other people have been injured, and scores of uncounted bodies could still be buried in collapsed buildings in Sigi and Balaroa under quicksand-like mud caused by the quake.
More than 25 countries have offered assistance after Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo appealed for international help.
Little of that, however, has reached the disaster zone, and increasingly desperate residents grabbed food and fuel from damaged stores and begged for help.
"Australia has expertise, it has resources in particular areas," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Perth.
"We're looking to see how we can best fit the need to ensure that we can do whatever we can to support our Indonesian friends and neighbours in this time of very genuine need."
An aircraft carrying 12,000 litres of fuel had arrived. and trucks with food were on the way with police escorts to guard against looters. Many gas stations were inoperable either because of quake damage or from people stealing fuel, Mr Nugroho said.
PAY ATTENTION TO DONGGALA'
The frustration of waiting for days without help has angered some survivors. "Pay attention to Donggala, Mr Jokowi. Pay attention to Donggala," yelled one resident in a video broadcast on local TV, referring to the president. "There are still a lot of unattended villages here."
The town's administrative head, Kasman Lassa, all but gave residents permission to take food — but nothing else — from stores.
"Everyone is hungry and they want to eat after several days of not eating," Lassa said on local TV. "We have anticipated it by providing food, rice, but it was not enough. There are many people here. So, on this issue, we cannot pressure them to hold much longer."
Nearly 62,000 people have been displaced from their homes, Mr Nugroho said.
Most of the attention has been focused so far on Palu, which has 380,000 people and is easier to reach than other hard-hit areas.
UN spokesman Mr Haq said that relief agencies are on the ground or en route. He said the agencies are working closely with the government to provide technical support.
He told reporters that water is the main issue because most of the water supply infrastructure has been damaged.
He said the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has asked the UN children's agency, UNICEF, to send social workers to the affected area to support children who are alone or became separated from their families.
Mr Haq said the World Health Organisation warned that a lack of shelter and damaged water sanitation facilities could lead to outbreaks of communicable diseases.
Soputan is on the northern part of Sulawesi island, where a central region was severely damaged by an earthquake and tsunami Friday.
Indonesia has dozens of active volcanos.
- AP, news.com.au