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Eruption of Indonesia's Mount Marapi strands and injures climbers and blankets villages with ash

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PADANG, Indonesia -

Indonesia's Mount Marapi erupted with white-and-gray ash plumes Sunday, stranding and injuring climbers and spreading volcanic ash over several villages.

Two climbing routes were closed after the eruption and residents living on the slopes of Marapi were advised to stay 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) from the crater's mouth because of potential lava, said Ahmad Rifandi, an official with Indonesia's Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center at the Marapi monitoring post.

About 75 climbers started their way up the nearly 2,900-metre (9,480-foot) mountain on Saturday and became stranded. Some 26 climbers still awaited rescue as about 168 personnel, including police and soldiers, were deployed to search them, said Hari Agustian, an official at the local Search and Rescue Agency in Padang, the capital city of West Sumatra province.

Eight of those rescued were rushed to hospitals with burn wounds and one also had a broken limb, he said.

A video on social media shows the climbers were evacuated to a shelter, their faces and hair smeared with volcanic dust and rain.

The eruption sent ash plumes more than 3,000 metres (9,800 feet) into the air and hot ash clouds spread several kilometers.

Falling ash blanketed several villages and blocked sunlight, National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said. Authorities distributed masks and urged residents to wear eyeglasses to protect them from volcanic ash, he said.

About 1,400 people live on Marapi's slopes in Rubai and Gobah Cumantiang, the nearest villages about 5 to 6 kilometres (3.1 to 3.7 miles) from the peak.

Marapi's alert level was maintained at the third-highest of four levels, Abdul Muhari said, and confirmed that authorities had been closely monitoring the volcano after sensors picked up increasing activity in recent weeks.

Marapi has been active since a January eruption that caused no casualties. It is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

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Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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