Thursday, April 14, 2005

Indon volcano is raising fears of looming volcano eruption

Indon volcano stirs, fears of eruption loom
20,000 evacuated as Sumatra's Mount Talang spews ash

JAKARTA — A new wave of panic spread across the disaster-hit island of Sumatra yesterday when a volcano coughed to life, spewing volcanic ash and prompting thousands to flee their homes.

.Mount Talang, 40 kilometres east of Sumatra's coastal capital of Padang, began spewing volcanic ash before dawn.

.Scientists urged locals to move away from the immediate fall-out zone. By mid-day yesterday, more than 20,000 people had evacuated the area. The volcano's status was raised to "beware", one level below an eruption.

.Vulcanologist Gede Suwantika described Mt Talang's activity as "serious" and said there was a possibility of the release of molten magma, as well as clouds of super-heated gas, that would burn everything in its path.

."I'm worried that this activity will be followed by a larger eruption that is magmatic in nature. Heat clouds could also descend and this is what is risky as they have a potential reach of several kilometres," he said.

.An AFP photographer at the 2,599-metre volcano said a narrow road leading to the mountain was clogged by people leaving the area, which was shrouded in thick fog. Official updates reported ash being carried further down the slopes by wind, while strong gaseous odours were permeating the air around the mountain.

.The volcano's activity comes just two days after Padang was hit by a powerful 6.7-magnitude quake that caused only minor damage but revived memories of last year's deadly Indian Ocean tsunamis.

.The series of quakes and aftershocks that have rocked Sumatra have triggered off so much paranoia among the residents that some have sent a series of text messages via mobile phone to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, urging him to slaughter 1,000 sheep in a bid to stop more disasters from striking the nation.

.The local belief is that the sacrifice of lambs could calm the seismic forces.
.But Dr Yudhoyono yesterday dismissed the calls as "superstitious nonsense" and urged the public not to have such beliefs. He also stressed in a public message that earthquakes were a natural phenomenon and could be explained scientifically.

.Many Sumatrans are still recovering from the shocks of the previous quakes.
.More than 600 people on the offshore islands of Nias and Simeulue were killed in a quake that struck off the south-west coast of Sumatra on March 28 — most of the victims crushed by collapsing concrete structures.

.On Dec 26 last year, a 9.0-magnitude shockwave from the same geological faultline unleashed tsunamis that destroyed vast tracts of coast in Sumatra's westernmost Aceh region, leaving hundreds of thousands dead or missing.

.The Indonesian archipelago sits atop a series of faultlines where three continental plates collide with immense pressure, causing almost daily earthquakes and frequent eruptions from more than 130 active volcanoes.

.Though inured to seismic activity, thousands of Indonesians, particularly on Nias and Simeulue, have been spooked by the recent quakes and rumours of another imminent disaster and have sought refuge on higher ground.

.Last month a prominent seismologist said he could not rule out the risk of a third big quake off Sumatra, although the exact timing of the event could not be predicted.

.According to an Indonesian geophysicist with the Meteorology and Geophysics agency, Talang's eruption is directly linked to the recent seismic activity off Sumatra's shores.
."Tectonically speaking, it is true that there are links between tectonic activities in the Indian Ocean and volcanic activities in Sumatra," he told AFP.

.He said the massive December quake had activated Leuser Mountain, a volcano in Aceh province along the same range of peaks as Talang, while the Nias quake had sparked activity in lake Toba, an ancient crater in Sumatra.

.Talang has had at least four major eruptions, all in the 19th century, and three smaller eruptions in 1981, 2001 and 2003.

20,000 evacuated as Sumatra's Mount Talang spews ash

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