A Volcano on Mount Sinabung in Indonesia Erupted Sunday and the death toll in rising from the initial 14 that perished among the fiery tragedy. The catastrophic eruption occurred just one day after authorities allowed villagers to return to their homes. Residents of Mount Sinabung of the North Sumatra have been evacuated multiple times due to increased seismic activity over the past few months.
Over the weekend, the months-long seismic activity had decreased. However, this was just the calm before the storm for the mountain residents. The 8,530 foot volcano burst, shooting molten rock and superheated gas from its fiery depths. The pyroclastic flows rivaled that of an avalanche, sending poisonous gas down the southern side of the mountain.
Among the confirmed dead are four high school students, their teacher, and a local television journalist who was covering the event. National Disaster Mitigation Agency (NDMA) spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho stated that three other residents were injured in the eruption. Local authorities claim that death toll will rise in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption in Indonesia.
Over 30,000 people were evacuated in Western Sumatra has the events unfolded. A makeshift environmental refugee camp was created by housing people in tents, public buildings, and schools. Residents have been desperate for months to return to their homes and farms to analyze the potential damage from the seismic activity. 14,000 residents living outside of the “danger zone” were told by the government that it was safe to return to their homes due to decreased volcanic activity.
Despite warnings by authorities, those living nearest to the peak of the mountain returned to their homes at their own risk. Such stubbornness of some residents ended in fiery death from the volcano that continues to claim the lives of Sumatrans.
Indonesia is used to seismic and volcanic activity due to its location on the “Ring of Fire.” The Ring of Fire is located on the Asia-Pacific rim and its circumference includes the Aleutian and Hawaiian Islands. Mount Sinabung in Sumatra is situated around over 130 active volcanoes. The mountain has erupted sporadically since last September.
Over time, Sumatran authorities have struggled to keep people from their homes on the mountain during seismic and volcanic activity. In 2010, 324 people perished during a similar eruption of Mount Merapi and the ensuing pyroclastic flows in the aftermath. Attempts by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to relocate the displaced villagers are beginning. The villagers have been attracted to the mountain’s fertile soil due to its geological activity. Therefore, moving their subsistence farming lifestyle elsewhere is very difficult.
Lieutenant Colonel Asep Sukarna is currently leading an effort to retrieve the corpses of the victims who perished. He states that they are only able to travel up to two miles from the peak of the volcano. The colonel explained that the darkness from the pyroclastic flows has hindered their ability to reach those further into the darkness who need assistance. As more people are reported missing, it is feared that death toll will continue to rise for days and even weeks. The people of Indonesia can only hope that the aftermath of the volcanic eruption will yield a death toll less than that of years past.
By Alex Lemieux