Saturday, July 29, 2006

Karangetan volcano causes 3000 people to flee the area

More than 3,000 villagers fled to safety Friday after Mt. Karangetan on Northeast Sulawesi's Siau island began belching hot gas and lava.

Mixing with heavy rain, lava from the volcano has created streams of lahar which have gushed down the mountain's slopes and inundated a village.

No one has been reported injured in the eruptions, which reached their peak in the past three days after the mountain rumbled to life two weeks ago.

The first assistant to the North Sulawesi governor, Iskandar L. Gobel, told The Jakarta Post Friday the volcano's status had been lifted to condition red Tuesday.

He said residents from five villages located around the island's volcano, which lies to the north of Manado, had been evacuated to safety.

A senior volcanologist, Saut Simatupang, told Reuters the volcano was spewing hot gas clouds as far as 2.5 kilometers to the southern and southeastern parts of the island.

"Since it (the cloud) is near the villagers' homes we have upgraded the mountain to the top alert status," he said.

"(However) the latest activity is tending to show a decrease, with the hot gas clouds declining (in frequency)."

From Siau, teacher Oly Antameng told the Post the volcano had regularly coughed up gas and hot lava during the past few weeks but the lava came only Thursday after heavy rain.

"We're on alert in case more mud and rocks run down the mountain with the rain. But all residents living near the volcano have been evacuated to safety," she said.

Head of East Siau district R. Areros said the mudflows were still under control although several residential areas in Ulu Siau village, located close to the lahar's route, had been emptied.

"Some houses have been abandoned to avoid the danger of the lahar," he said. The evacuation was made following an instruction from Sangihe Regent Winsulangi Salindeho.

He said that so far, no casualties had been reported although activities in the Ulu Siau area had been disrupted since the mudflows began to block roads.

Gobel said some 800 families or 3,900 people from six villages had fled to safety by Friday. More than 1,000 people had moved to safe zones during the past two weeks, he said.

Karangetan is the latest volcano in the country to be put on high alert status after East Java's Mount Merapi spewed hot gas clouds and lava for more than two months before cooling down.

According to data from the mining resources and energy office in Manado, Karangetan's first recorded eruption was in 1675, with no casualties mentioned.

This was followed by further eruptions in 1712, 1825, 1864, 1883 and 1885. The latest was recorded in 1940, in which two people died and nine others were injured. The eruption also destroyed nearby coconut and nutmeg plantations.

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