Image: The Lokon volcano erupts near Tomohon on Friday.
Tengku  /  AFP - Getty Images
The Lokon volcano erupts near Tomohon on Friday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 7/15/2011 5:04:24 AM ET 2011-07-15T09:04:24

A volcano in central Indonesia spit lava and smoke high into the air early Friday, sending thousands of panicked residents racing down its fiery slopes and setting fire to nearby forests.

One woman died of a heart attack as she fled.

Mount Lokon, located in northern Sulawesi province, unleashed its first powerful eruption at 10:46 p.m. Thursday, said Brian Rulrone, a disaster management agency official.

That blast was followed by a second just after midnight and a third at 1:10 a.m. Friday.

Ferry Rusmawan, an official at the nearest monitoring post, said that activity remained high and another eruption appeared imminent.

Glowing lava cascaded from the mouth of the crater, setting off fires along its western slope.

"The eruption has set ablaze the forests around the crater," said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.

Rumbles continue
The 5,741-foot mountain continued to rumble late Friday morning.

INDONESIA VOLCANO
P. Santilli  /  AP
Map locates Mount Lokon in Indonesia, which erupted early Friday, forcing evacuations


Soldiers and police helped rescuers evacuate residents living along the mountain's fertile slopes, said Jimmy Eman, the acting mayor in the nearby town of Tomohon, adding that the only victim so far was the 56-year-old woman who died of a heart attack.

'It was very scary'
More than 6,000 people were crammed into schools, churches and other temporary shelters and authorities said 27,000 others living within 2 miles of the crater also would be moved.

"This is the largest eruption I've ever experienced," said Nelson Uada, who was among those evacuated overnight. "It was very scary. Glowing lava flowed like flames in the darkness and it sounded like we were in a war."

Flights to the nearest international airport in Manado, the provincial capital, were not disrupted, said Lucky Podaag, an airport spokesman.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 240 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific Ocean.

Mount Lokon, which has been on high alert for nearly a week, is one of the country's 129 active volcanoes. Its last major eruption in 1991 killed a Swiss hiker and forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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