Thursday, April 14, 2005

Mount Talang in Indonesia creates panic as a volcano eruption is possible

JAKARTA - A volcano coughed into life Tuesday on Indonesia’s disaster-blighted island of Sumatra, spreading new panic in the wake of the recent tsunami and earthquakes and prompting thousands to flee their homes.

Mount Talang, 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of west Sumatra’s coastal capital Padang began spewing volcanic ash shortly before dawn, but scientists said there was no immediate cause for alarm beyond the immediate fall-out zone.

“We are still monitoring the activities of the volcano but so far there has not been any significant volcanic temblor registered,” said Sugeng of the meteorology and geophysics office in the nearby town of Padang Panjang.

Reports said that four villages on the fertile slopes of the 2,599 metre (8,680 foot) volcano were evacuated with tens of thousands of scared residents seeking refuge several kilometres from the peak.

Elfi Sahlan Ben, of Talang’s Solok district, told the Detikcom news website that ash was being carried by winds further down the slopes while strong gaseous odours were permeating the air around the mountain.

The volcano’s activity comes just two days after the city of Padang was gripped with fear following a powerful 6.7 magnitude quake that caused only minor damage but revived memories of last year’s deadly Indian Ocean tsunami.

On Monday the city’s offices and schools were deserted, with many people having left the town to seek refuge on higher ground, their unease fuelled by rumours and scientific reports of another impending disaster.

A massive earthquake struck off the southwest coast of Sumatra on March 28, killing more than 600 people on the offshore islands of Nias and Simeulue—most of the victims crushed by collapsing concrete structures.

On December 26 last year, a 9.3-magnitude shockwave from the same geological faultline unleashed a tsunami that destroyed vast tracts of coast in Sumatra’s westernmost Aceh region and left more then 160,000 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 volcanos.

Though inured to seismic activity, thousands of Indonesians, particularly on Nias and Simeulue, have been spooked by the recent quakes and widespread 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 of Sumatra, although the exact timing of the event could not be predicted.
“The probability of a third quake in the coming months and years, cannot be excluded,” said Mustapha Meghraoui, in charge of active tectonics at the Institute for Planetary Physics in Strasbourg, eastern France.

“The theory is that this particular region has seismic cycles of between 150 years and 200 years. The December 26 event caused extreme disruption, and one possibility is of a cascade of quakes.”

According to Fauzan, a geophysiciest 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.

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