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Indonesia volcano threat grows

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MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesian authorities have raised the alert status for Mount Merapi, the volatile volcano in central Java, to the highest level after downgrading it in recent days.

The Indonesian Center for Research Technology and Volcanology raised the alert to red from yellow on Tuesday after noticing an increase in activity.

"The status was upgraded at 2 p.m. (0700 GMT) because of the increasing hot clouds," said Triyani, an official at the state-run monitoring center in the city of Yogyakarta, a city of about 500,000 people, in the province of the same name.

Last week, about 11,000 residents living near Mount Merapi were evacuated after hot ash spewed from the volcano's dome.

But those who had returned to their homes headed for evacuation shelters after the alert level was raised again.

Shortly beforehand, the volcano center said the government could let people return home because villages located about 6 to 7 km (3.75 to 4.3 miles) from the peak were thought to be safe.

"Those who have returned home now are going back to the evacuation barracks," Sulistiyo, who manages evacuees in Sleman regency on Merapi's southern foothill, told Reuters.

Authorities have warned a major eruption could be imminent. Merapi, one of Indonesia's most dangerous and active volcanoes, has been rumbling for more than two months.

Merapi is about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Yogyakarta. Its slopes are densely populated; the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports as many as 80,000 people could be displaced in an eruption, depending on the direction of lava flow.

The region was devastated May 27 by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 6,200 people.

The temblor's epicenter was about 15 miles south-southwest of Yogyakarta, near the volcano. Scientists have said Merapi's lava dome has grown considerably since the earthquake.

The 3,000-meter Merapi is famously unpredictable. A pyroclastic flow -- a fast-moving burst of blistering gases and rock fragments -- remains a main concern.

One killed more than 60 villagers in 1994, and about 1,300 people died when Merapi erupted in 1930.

CNN's Dan Rivers contributed to this report.

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