Friday, April 22, 2005

Warning about possible volcano eruptions

Scientists have warned hikers and visitors to stay away from two more Indonesian volcanoes, a day after another volcano spewed ash on disaster-stricken Sumatra island and forced the evacuation of some 25,000 people.

Sensors on the slopes of the two mountains -- Anak Krakatoa on the southern tip of Sumatra and Tangkuban Prahu in Java -- picked up an increase in volcanic activity and a buildup of gases, government volcanologist Syamsul Rizal said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Mount Talang, also on Sumatra, sent clouds of gas high into the air. Some 25,000 people have fled the area around the volcano and are staying in tents and public buildings.

Vulcanologists said it was possible the increased volcanic activity could be linked to recent earthquakes that have rocked Sumatra, including one on March 28 that killed 600 people on the outlying island of Nias.

"The thing that links these together is the first earthquake. It was such a huge event. We have to expect it to take about six months to get back to normal," Gary Gibson, from the Seismology Research Center in Canberra, Australia told CNN on Thursday.

"Volcanoes will be affected by stress on the earth and changes in stress may trigger eruptions earlier than we may have expected them," Gibson said, adding that he expected there to be many small and large aftershocks from the earthquake.

Scientists on Wednesday raised the alert level for Anak Krakatoa and Tangkuban Prahu -- which regularly spew gas and rumble -- from "normal" to "warning," the middle of three alert levels.
This means the volcanoes are declared off-limits to hikers, but authorities are not ordering the evacuation of villagers living on their slopes.

The exodus from the slopes of Talang in Sumatra reflects the nervousness of people living on the island, the northern tip of which was devastated by the December 26 earthquake and tsunami.
Rumors spread by mobile phone text messages warning of more earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions have added to panic on the island.

The 9,186-foot mountain was spewing ash 1,640 feet into the air Wednesday, but not as high as a day earlier, when the clouds reached 3,280 feet, said Surono, from a government-run volcanology center in Bandung, West Java province.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the region in west Sumatra, some 560 miles northwest of Jakarta, on Wednesday to meet with refugees in temporary camps.

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