Indonesia volcano eruption prompts mass evacuation

February 14, 2014

Ash cloud from Java island’s Mount Kelud forces 100,000 people to flee their homes and international airports to close

A major volcanic eruption in Indonesia has shrouded a large swath of the most heavily populated island in ash, triggering the evacuation of more than 100,000 people and the closure of three international airports.

Two people were killed in the overnight eruption of Java island’s Mount Kelud, which could be heard up to 125 miles (200km) away, Indonesia’s disaster agency said.

The ash cloud reached 18 miles into the atmosphere and fell to Earth in towns and cities across the region, including Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, and even farther afield in Yogyakarta, where motorists were forced to switch on their headlights in daylight.

International airports in Yogyakarta, Solo and Surabaya were closed due to reduced visibility and the dangers posed to aircraft engines by ash, according to transport ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan. Virgin Australia said it had cancelled all flights on Friday to Bali, Phuket, Christmas Island and Cocos Island.

Kediri, a normally bustling town about 19 miles from the mountain, was largely deserted as residents stayed indoors to avoid the choking ash.

“The smell of sulphur sulfur and ash hung so thickly in the air that breathing was painful,” said Kediri resident Insaf Wibowo.

Some residents were shovelling the ash and grit into sacks to use for the construction of buildings or to fertilizse crops. One collector said he had been offered up to $56 (£33) for a small truck filled with debris.

Two people were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed under the weight of the ash and volcanic debris unleashed during the eruption, the disaster agency said.

The disaster agency said tremors from the volcano were still being felt, but scientists did not expect another major eruption. It said all villages within six miles (10km) of Kelud – inhabited by more than 100,000 people – had been evacuated to temporary shelters, but that elsewhere villagers had returned to their homes to begin cleaning up.

The 1,731-metre-high (5,680ft) Mount Kelud in eastern Java – Indonesia’s most densely populated island and home to more than half of the country’s 240 million people – has been rumbling for several weeks and was under close observation.

Muhammad Hendrasto, head of Indonesia’s volcano monitoring agency, said the mountain erupted violently about 90 minutes after authorities raised its alert status to the highest level. The disaster agency said it had spewed millions of cubic metres of debris into the atmosphere.

Kelud is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The archipelagic nation is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes because of its location on the Ring of Fire – a series of fault lines stretching from the western hemisphere through Japan and south-east Asia.

Due to the fertile volcanic soil and the shortage of space on Java, hundreds of thousands of people live close to active volcanoes. They are used to the rumblings, but their proximity to the peaks presents difficulties for authorities.

The last major eruption at Kelud was in 1990, when more than 30 people were killed and hundreds injured. In 1919, a powerful explosion that reportedly could be heard hundreds of miles away killed at least 5,160 people.

Earlier this month, Mt Sinabung in North Sumatra province erupted as authorities were allowing thousands of villagers who had been evacuated to return to its slopes, killing 16 people. Sinabung has been erupting for four months, forcing the evacuation of more than 30,000 people.


Source: The Guardian

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