A women walks on a road covered volcanic ash following the eruption of Mount Kelud in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Feb 14, 2014. Indonesia's mount Kelud in densely populated Java Island has erupted, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people. Head of volcano monitoring agency Muhammad Hendrasto, said the mountain in Kediri regency erupted late Thursday, just about 90 minutes after authorities raised its status to the highest level. (AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi)

Jakarta - A volcano erupted late on Thursday night on the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java, sending a huge plume of ash and sand 17km into the air and forcing the closure of three airports.

Mount Kelud is 140km south of Indonesia's second-biggest city, Surabaya, a major industrial centre.

The cloud from the eruption was seen as far as 9km to the west, and forced the shutdown of airports at Surabaya and the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo.

"Areas to the west of Mount Kelud, including central Java, Yogyakarta, Cilacap, Magelang, Temanggung and Boyolali are still experiencing showers of ash because last night the biggest eruption threw sand and ash 17km into the air to the west," National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said by telephone.

Cilacap is home to a major oil refinery, but there was no immediate word on whether its operations had been affected. Its refineries supply about a third of the country's fuel needs.

The agency later said the cloud was dissipating and that the volcano was no longer erupting.

Nugroho said the agency was still trying to confirm reports that two people had died.

"We don't have data yet on how many people have been evacuated in total. We can say 200 000 people were affected. We received reports of deaths but we have not verified them yet," he said.

The eruption caused minimal damage to buildings, Sutopo said, but had left 3cm to 5cm of ash and sand on roads.

An estimated 200 000 people live within a 10km radius of Mount Kelud, one of nearly 130 active volcanoes in the world's fourth most populous country.

At least 11 people were killed earlier this month in the north of the island of Sumatra when Mount Sinabung erupted. The volcano has been spewing lava and ash for months, forcing thousands to flee the area and destroying crops.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in a message on Twitter that he planned to visit the area near Kelud.