After eight violent eruptions that occurred just hours apart on Sunday, Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency has called for the evacuations of more than 15,000 residents who live within a five-kilometer radius of Mount Sinabung. The 2,500-meter-tall volcano, located on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra, has been increasingly active since September. The latest string of eruptions has sent rocks and huge columns of gray ash as high as eight kilometers into the sky.
“People panicked last night as the eruption was accompanied by a loud thunderous sound and vibrations. Then it started raining down rocks,” said Robert Peranginangin, a local government spokesperson, in an interview with AFP. “They ran helter-skelter out of their homes and cried for help.”
Clouds of ash from Mount Sinabung, situated only 88 kilometers from the North Sumatra provincial capital of Medan, is already causing flight disruptions. Kuala Namu International Airport, located just outside of Medan and opposite Mount Sinabung, has seen many flights cancelled or delayed.
Domestic carrier Susi Air has halted all five of its daily flights from Kuala Namu, citing the dangerous plumes of hot ash that are blanketing the region.
“It’s quite thick. All of our planes in Kuala Namu were covered in ash this morning,” Hadi Zulfadi, Susi Air’s operational manager, told The Jakarta Post. “This could be very dangerous if we insist on travel. Thus, we decided to temporarily halt operations.”
Malaysian carrier Air Asia has also delayed departures until further notice.
Indonesian authorities have reported no known loss of life due to the volcanic eruptions – a stark contrast to the country’s deadly 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi that claimed the lives of more than 350 people in central Java. Authorities did, however, raise the danger warning for Mount Sinabung.
“We have raised the status to ‘caution,’ which is the highest of levels for volcanic activity because we anticipate there will be more eruptions and because the intensity of eruptions has been increasing,” read a statement by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
Mount Sinabung sits atop the “Ring of Fire,” an earthquake and volcanic eruption-prone area that stretches across the Pacific Ocean due to unstable plate tectonics. It is just one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia.