A volcano in western Indonesia erupted violently on Sunday, spewing lava and gas 4,000 metres into the air and forcing scores of residents to flee their homes.

Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra exploded just after midnight following more than 50 eruptions on Saturday which sent lava up to three miles down the slopes of the volcano.

Streams of panicked residents covered in ash fled down the sides of the mountain on motorcycles followed by truckloads of women and children, as rocks and debris fell from the sky.

More than 20,000 people have now been evacuated from their homes in villages around the crater and placed in temporary shelters, but no casualties have been reported.

Prince Meyer Putong, head of the emergency response team, said: "We are providing new places for them but they prefer to stay with their relatives, neighbours and close friends. We have provided 11 new temporary shelters for them already."

A rescue operation was underway in the villages of Jewara and Pintu Besi, which are blanketed in grey dust, and authorities extended a danger zone around the volcano from three to four miles, after gas travelled further than expected.

A spokesman for the ministry of transportation said airlines have also been notified to avoid flying near the volcano.

Mount Sinabung has erupted sporadically since September and is one of almost 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is located on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" – a group of major tectonic fault lines that circle the Pacific basin.

In 2010, Mount Sinabung erupted, killing two people and displacing more than 30,000 inhabitants.

Watch video footage of Mount Sinabung's volcanic eruption below: