Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Police evacuates volcano slopes in Indonesia as eruption is near
Mount Kelut, a 1731m peak about 90km from Indonesia's second largest city of Surabaya on the island of Java, was put on red alert on Tuesday amid fears it was about to blow.
Some 116,000 villagers were evacuated from the fertile land around its slopes, but many have defied local officials' orders to stay away, instead returning home to tend their farms and to protect them from possible looting.
Asked by reporters to confirm whether police had threatened villagers with guns to get them to leave a 10km danger zone around the peak, local police chief Tjuk Basuki said: "Yes, some individual officers did so, but we wouldn't get into any physical contact."
"This is for their own good. The volcano is at a dangerous stage," he added.
He did not say how many villagers were forced to leave, but many insisted on staying put.
About 350 residents at Kampung Anyar, a village 8km from the crater, said they did not want to leave their homes and they had their own way to protect themselves.
"When Kelut erupts, we will all stay in our homes and not talk, not turn on the lights, or candles or even a single match until the next daybreak," Mr Sugeng, 45, said.
The village was built by survivors of the 1990 volcano eruption that spewed so-called "heat clouds" – searing gas containing ash and volcanic debris – down its slopes.
"The two villages were too close to the crater, so we moved here," he said.
Kristanto, the chief volcanologist at the monitoring station at Kelut, said that he believed head clouds, also known as pyroclastic flows, would erupt this time in a manner similar to the ones in 1990.
"I predict that this time, it will be the same," he said.
The elderly warden of the volcano, Mbah Ronggo, evacuated to a safety shelter overnight but returned home today.
"Actually I didn't want to come down but police asked me to do so for safety reasons. In my opinion, evacuation for the time being is unnecessary," he said before he returned to the slopes to tend his farm.
The World Health Organisation and Indonesian officials mobilised 100 medical professionals, placed 200 health facilities on alert and established 41 outreach health posts in anticipation of the eruption, the UN said.
Emergency health kits, masks and other essential equipment have also been prepared, the world body added.
Separately, a so-called "mud volcano" 68km northeast of Kelut has increased its flow to about 130,000 cubic metres per day amid the rising seismic activity in the area, Soffian Hadi Djojopranoto, deputy head of a Government team monitoring the mud volcano, said.
The mud began spurting at an exploratory gas drill in May last year and the company operating it has been blamed.
But the company insists a major quake that struck the Java city of Yogyakarta just beforehand was the trigger.
Officials said in September that the flow increased then from 70,000 cubic metres a day to 100,000.
"We have no reference to forecast what will happen if Mount Kelut erupts," Djojopranoto warned.
More than 15,000 lives have been claimed since record-keeping began of Mount Kelut's eruptions, including an estimated 10,000 in a catastrophic 1586 eruption.
A 1919 eruption spewed heat clouds that killed 5160 people. The last eruption in 1990 left 34 people dead.