Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mt. Karangetang's evacuees face lack of drinking water

Hundreds of residents displaced following the increasing activity of Mt. Karangetang on Siau Island, North Sulawesi, were facing a shortage of drinking water Tuesday.

Since the volcano was put on the top alert status last week, hundreds of residents on the island, which lies north of the province's capital city, Manado, have been told to evacuate their houses and live in shelters.

"We've been experiencing a water shortage since Sunday. It's hard to find clean water to cook with and drink, all the water containers are filled with lava and mud," Oly, an East Siau resident who has been staying in a shelter in West Siau, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

She said there was enough water for bathing.

Another East Siau resident staying at the shelter, Hulden Tumuwe, said there was enough to eat but nothing to drink.

He said they had to queue for water from the Siau water utility.

"In order to get clean water, we can no longer depend on wells or containers, since all of them are dirty and muddy," he said.

More than 3,000 villagers fled to safety Friday after Mt. Karangetan 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 villages.

When asked to confirm the water shortage, the head of East Siau district, R. Areros, denied the refugee shelter was affected, saying the water utility was delivering water daily.

"We continue to supply them with drinking water. Maybe only one or two people did not get their water, then complained."

He said the administration was working around the clock to ensure the refugees had access to food, shelter and medical treatment.

"We've been distributing aid received from Sangihe regency administration as well as from North Sulawesi provincial administration," Areros told the Post.

The alert status for the volcano was not downgraded Tuesday, though the hot gas cloud was declining.

"Based on reports from observation staff in Siau, Karangetang remains on top alert status but its activity has decreased," Areros said.

Currently, he said 881 families or 3,491 people from three villages in East Siau, two villages in Central Siau and one village in West Siau were in danger in the event of an eruption.

So far, 399 families or 1,388 people have abandoned their homes to live in shelters.

"Evacuees were accommodated in temporary shelters provided by the administration, while some others are staying with their relatives or taking refugee in schools or churches. Many of the displaced residents return home in the daytime and back to the shelters at night," he said.

The volcano is the latest to be put on top alert status after Mt. Merapi in Central Java spewed hot clouds of gas and lava for more than two months before cooling down.

Karangetan's eruption would add to a string of disasters in the country following the May 27 earthquake, which hit Yogyakarta and Central Java, and the July 17 Java tsunami that swept the island's southern coast.

According to data from the mining resources and energy office in Manado, Karangetan's first recorded eruption was in 1675, with no casualties reported. This was followed by further eruptions, with the latest recorded in 1940, in which two people died and nine others were injured.

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