Thousands Refuse to Leave Homes as Volcano Erupts

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( — June 16, 2015) — TANAH KARO, Indonesia – Thousands of villagers in the Mount Sinabung area refused to leave the area despite warnings that the erupting volcano is likely to send deadly Pyroclastic flows towards their homes with little to no notice. In some conditions, these avalanches of hot ash, gas and debris rush down the side of the mountain at high speed, and can easily outrun a vehicle.

Prior to 2010, the volcano had been dormant for over 400 years, but on Monday there were already 28 of these pyroclastic flows counted, with at least 48 more the following day, forcing thousands of ash-covered villagers to flee the area.

However, Subur Tambun, head of the local disaster mitigation agency, said less than a third of some 33,000 people living in the danger zone agreed to move into tent camps or government buildings so far.

“The villagers insisted on tending crops,” Tambun said. “They are confident of being able to escape a major eruption. All we can do is ask them to leave.”

Despite hundreds of years of dormancy, the region has shown high activity in the recent years. Last February, a powerful explosion reverberated hundreds of miles and destroyed villages around its slopes, killing at least 17 people. More than 2,000 people who were forced to move by this event, their villages now uninhabitable, are still living in temporary housing and awaiting a more permanent solution.

The lack of expedient government action is partially to be blamed for an unusually high percentage of villagers showing resistance to leave the area.

The danger alert for Mount Sinabung was raised to its highest level on June 2nd. “Thousands more people are expected to have to evacuate the mountain,” a military commander in Sumatra said. However, authorities pleaded with villagers in the main danger zone for days, urging them to relocate to a shelter safe distance away, and have received mostly resistance.

Most of the inhabitants of the area are farmers whose livelihood depends on corps growing from the fertile volcanic soli.

“We have lost our vegetables, but not coffee,” Sapta Sembiring Palawi from Gambir village said. “Coffee has let us survive and we have to take care of it now.” Mr. Palawi is one of the villagers who is refusing to move to government shelters from his farm, located 3 miles away from the erupting mountain.

To make things worse, some of the villagers who evacuated the area just a day prior, already returned home to tend to their crops, despite the urges from the officials to stay in their shelters.

No serious injuries have been reported from the 2015 eruptions so far.

Small image credit: Binsar Bakkara – Associated Press