Indonesia on top alert for volcanic eruption

Fears of an imminent eruption prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents near Indonesia’s Mount Kelud on Wednesday, but many flouted the order and stayed at their homes around the rumbling Javanese volcano.

The alert on the volcano, one of Indonesia’s deadliest and located 90km south-west of its second-largest city, Surabaya, was raised to maximum late on Tuesday, meaning it could erupt within 24 hours.

Authorities had ordered the evacuation of more than 100 000 people from a 10km zone near the 1 731m volcano, a statement from the National Agency for Disaster Management said.

“The volcano is still on highest alert. I advise people to stay in the shelters and to be patient,” Surono, head of Indonesia’s Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, told Reuters. Another official said the number of volcanic quakes had dropped from up to 500 on Tuesday to 61 on Wednesday morning, but said that did not mean an eruption could be ruled out.

“In fact, it may erupt in two or three days after there are less quakes, because the volcano may be storing energy for a blow out,” said Saut Simatupang, head of the vulcanological survey.

In Kampung Anyar, about 7km from the crater and within a zone deemed by authorities as dangerous, many villagers were at home.

“It’s not certain if Mount Kelud would ever go off.
My parents and my siblings are at home at the moment. I’m going off to see some friends,” said Marsudi, a resident in the village, who evacuated and then returned to his home.

“Whenever we’re asked to evacuate, we will do so. But we came back simply because nothing happened.”

Plantation workers

In another timber plantation area closer to the crater, three workers dressed in sarongs planted teak seedlings.

“We are not afraid, because the signs weren’t there,” said Sumilah, adding that she believed signs of an eruption included loud noises made by grasshoppers, starless night skies, very hot weather and dark rain clouds.

Residents sheltering in the district of Kediri complained of inadequate supplies of food and water.

Many were also reluctant to leave behind possessions untended, particularly their animals.

An estimated 350 000 people live within 10km of the volcano, growing coffee, sugar cane, pineapples and papayas on the rich volcanic soil or feeding their cattle on the slopes.

Sigit Rahardjo, a spokesperson for the Kediri district government, said some people were likely to return to the shelters later in the day.

“Last night we managed to evacuate 28 000 people, but some have returned to their homes because they think it’s not going off.”

When Kelud last erupted in 1990, at least 30 people were killed and in 1919 about 5 000 died as it ejected scalding water from its crater lake.

Indonesia, which sits on a belt of intense seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, has had a series of major volcanic eruptions over the centuries.—Reuters

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