A volcano in Indonesia has erupted on Saturday killing at least 14 people. Mount Sinabung has been showing increased activity for months, which had prompted an evacuation of around 30,000 local residents. On Friday, authorities had allowed nearly half of the locals to return to their homes following a statement by officials saying that activity was decreasing. However, the major eruption on Saturday sent lava up to three miles away and blanketed a majority of the surrounding area in a think layer of grey ash.
Authorities, led by Lt. Col. Asep Sukarna, ordered villagers to once again return to evacuation centers. Sukarna believes the death toll is likely to rise due to a large amount of people still reported missing and darkness obstructing rescue missions.
The 8,500 foot tall Mount Sinabung is one of around 130 active volcanoes present in Indonesia. The region is part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is especially prone to volcanic activity. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had promised last week to relocate the displaced locals away from Sinabung, following a series of smaller eruptions that have been occurring since September. Officials have difficulty keeping local people from residing near active volcanoes because the surrounding soil is especially rich in minerals therefore excellent for farming.
Saturday’s eruption that killed at least 14 is the latest in the country’s history. The volcano’s last major eruption occurred in 2010, in which two people were killed. That same year, Mount Merapi erupted killing over 324 locals, highlighting the constant threats volcanoes pose to Indonesia.
A spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency reported that among the dead were a local journalist as well as four high school students and their teacher that were attempting to study the volcano. Officials had constructed make shift homes for the evacuees but many were discontent with the conditions of the camps. Displaced persons were housed in overcrowded tents and public schools, creating a small humanitarian issue for the government. Many of the evacuated residents have battled with authorities about returning to their villages in order to check up on their homes and farms. Additional food, water, and medical supplies are being sent to the area.
The alert status for Sinabung was raised to its highest level in November. The decision on Friday to allow locals to return to their homes has been criticized as contributing to the death toll. Scientists constantly monitor volcanic activity, but it is nearly impossible to precisely predict when an eruption will occur. Although villagers returned to the area, many claim that evidence suggested that a massive eruption was overdue.
Rescue teams are scheduled to make their way to the area on Sunday morning. They will likely be hampered by the ash covering and harmful air quality. The volcano that killed at least 14 has also been responsible for the injuries of at least three people. These numbers are expected to rise. Following the eruption that took place in 2010, Mount Sinabung was inactive for roughly four centuries.
By Peter Grazul