Mount Lokon (REUTERS)

An Indonesian volcano sent lava and smoke thousands of feet into the air on Thursday, June 14, sending panicked residents fleeing the area as hot lava cascaded down the slopes.  According to disaster management agency official Brian Rulrone, the first eruption of Mt Lokon occurred at 10:46 p.m.  It was followed by a second, more powerful blast just after midnight and a third at 1:10 a.m.

There were no reports of casualties, though one woman died of a heart attack in the chaos.

Soldiers and police were aiding rescuers in evacuating the people who call the volcanic slopes their home, disaster official Darwis Sitinjak told El Shinga radio.

Residents were warned on Wednesday to stay far away from the 5,741-foot (1,750-meter) volcano, which has been on high alert for a week, with small daily outbursts.  2,000 had already fled before Thursday's eruption and more than 33,000 people live along the fertile slopes of Mt Lokon.

A 2.2 mile (3.5k) evacuation zone has been established in case of a bigger eruption, and about 28,000 people live within that zone.

Officials said tourists would be barred from going on popular day hikes to the volcano, located 13 miles (20k) away from provincial capital, Manado.

No flights were cancelled, however, and operations at the nearby international airport in Manado were not affected, said Lucky Podaag, an airport spokesman.

Only a fortnight ago, another of Sulawesi Island's most active volcanoes, Mount Soputan, erupted, but there was no need for evacuations.  The country's most active volcano, Mount Merapi in central Java, has killed more than 350 people in a series of violent eruptions that started in late October.

A vast archipelago of 235 million people, Indonesia is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes as it sits atop the Pacific Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped string of fault lines that edge the Pacific Ocean.  The nation is home to 129 active volcanoes.

A Swiss hiker was killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes during Mt Lokon's last major eruption in 1991.