Indonesian volcano set to blow but thousands of villagers refuse to flee

Sinabung Volcano June 18
June 2015 INDONESIA Thousands of villagers are refusing to leave their homes on the slopes of one of Indonesia’s most volatile volcanoes despite warnings that it is poised for a powerful eruption. Mount Sinabung, one of about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, has been at the highest alert level for nearly two weeks. On Tuesday, at least 48 avalanches of hot ash barreled down its slopes, with the biggest reaching 2.5 km (1.5 miles) southeastward. The volcano in northern Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s main islands, has also been shooting smoke and ash more than 700 meters (2,300 feet) into the air. Several thousand people, including women carrying babies in slings, have left the mountain in police trucks since Monday after the volcanic activity intensified over the weekend. Some streamed down the scorched slopes on motorcycles, their faces caked in ash.
But Subur Tambun, who heads the local disaster mitigation agency, said only 10,000 of about 33,000 people living within the main danger zone have moved into tent camps or government buildings a safe distance from the volcano. No injuries have been reported from the recent eruptions. “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.” The 2,460-meter (8,070-foot) Mount Sinabung has erupted sporadically since 2010, when it caught scientists off guard and blew after being quiet for four centuries. Last year, a powerful explosion heard hundreds of kilometers (miles) away destroyed villages around its slopes and killed at least 17 people. For days, authorities have pleaded with villagers in the main danger zone, which stretches 7 km (4 miles) to the south and southeast of the peak, to move to the temporary shelters, but have faced resistance.
“We have lost our vegetables, but not coffee,” said Sapta Sembiring Palawi from Gambir village, about 4.7 km (3 miles) from the smoldering peak. “Coffee has let us survive and we have to take care of it now.” Palawi, a grandfather, is one of about 200 people from the village who have refused to move to government shelters. The reluctance of people to leave their homes despite danger is common in the sprawling archipelago nation. It has more volcanoes than any other country and 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 Southeast Asia. More than 150,000 people live along the slopes of Mount Sinabung, taking advantage of its fertile soil to grow chilies, oranges, cocoa and coffee.
Despite warnings, some evacuees returned home Tuesday to tend their crops and livestock. “We are worried, but we have to see our house and to clean up the ash from our farm,” said Yapti Sitepu, who was evacuated to a temporary shelter on Monday. More than 2,000 people forced to move by last year’s eruption are still living in temporary houses rented by the government while they wait for permanent relocation. Their villages are now uninhabitable. –Japan Times
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5 Responses to Indonesian volcano set to blow but thousands of villagers refuse to flee

  1. Bone Idle says:

    Small point of order.

    The immediate danger is from a dome collapse – from a massive extrusion of viscous lava.

    Not an eruption per se.

    A major dome collapse may cause major pyroclastic flows that could possibly reach up to 7 kilometers away form the summit. The flows will most likely go in the same direction as previous flows.

    A true eruption could possibly cause much more damage including a disastrous pyroclastic flow.
    A massive lump of viscous lava has been building up at the summit for months. If it all comes down at once….well I hope those field workers get out of harms way.


  2. Love their dedication and bravery!!!! Best intentions for a safe outcome for them and their homes…(and plants too, of course)!


    • Yellow Bird says:

      yes, i also really sympathize with the people… as one elder has pointed out, if all the farmers were to leave, there would ultimately be nothing to come back to either way.
      if te mountain blows, everything around it dies. they said their vegetables have died allready.
      if all the people evacuate, the coffee harvest- their remaining livelihood- dies.
      there is no way to win either way!


  3. niebo says:

    “. . .Consider a narrow river valley below a high dam, such that if the dam burst, the resulting flood of water would drown people for a considerable distance downstream. When attitude pollsters ask people downstream of the dam how concerned they are about the dam’s bursting, it’s not surprising that fear of a dam burst is lowest far downstream, and increases among residents increasingly close to the dam. Surprisingly, though, after you get just a few miles below the dam, where fear of the dam’s breaking is found to be highest, concern then falls off to zero as you approach closer to the dam! That is, the people living immediately under the dam, the ones most certain to be drowned in a dam burst, profess unconcern. That’s because of psychological denial: the only way of preserving one’s sanity while looking up every day at the dam is to deny the possibility that it could burst.” (Page 436, “Collapse”, Jared Diamond)

    Their villages are uninhabitable; their HOMES are, in theory, uninhabitable. Without proper protection, the clean-up of the ash will kill them (a few years from now), and their crops are destroyed. EXCEPT for coffee. To me, this is a (painful)(bittersweet) beautiful story, because it illustrates that, even when they appear to have lost “everything” (including the illusion of “control”/”free will”), rather than succumb to despair, human beings often cling to ragged fragments of hope, even in the face of certain death. Be it through eruption, silicosis, or starvation, death will have to TAKE them, because, my guess is, they will not submit.


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