More than 20,000 villagers have been evacuated from areas surrounding Mount Sinabung, a volcano on Indonesia’s western island of Sumatra, after dozens of eruptions over the New Year weekend. As many as 50 eruptions on Saturday alone rained black ash and molten rocks as lava trickled down the mountainside. A deadly release of superheated gas forced disaster mitigation authorities to extend an evacuation zone from five to seven kilometers from the volcano’s mouth.
Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) stated that the volcano had erupted at least 77 times in a 24 hour timeframe, with the subsequent plume of smoke reaching 4,000 meters into the sky at its peak.
According to Sutopo Purwo, a BNPB spokesperson, there are about 60 pyroclastic flows (fast-moving, fluidized mixtures of rock fragments and hot gas that occur after a volcanic eruption) pouring out of Mount Sinabung’s crater. He added that the flows currently reach as far as five kilometers downhill, with the volume “increasing every day.”
Due to the expanding pyroclastic flows, which can move at up to 700 kilometers per hour and reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius, BNPB placed Mount Sinabung under the nation’s highest alert status, with officials moving more than 6,300 families to 32 disaster centers outside of the 7-kilometer danger zone. Pyroclastic flows were blamed for many of the deaths caused by the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi, located on the much more densely populated island of Java.
Another BNPB official told The Wall Street Journal that an increase of the existing evacuation zone from seven to 10 kilometers would displace nearly 60,000 local residents. Though the crater’s activity has subsided since yesterday, the agency has extended the high-alert status until January 18.
The 2,500-meter Mount Sinabung has been experiencing a strong uptick in activity since last September. More than 15,000 people were evacuated in November after violent eruptions that shook the countryside and coated entire villages with a thick layer of ash. Many of those displaced in November have yet to return home.
“We were tired here … we’ve lost everything. We wonder about our lives after this disaster,” Anton Sitepu, a father of four who was evacuated from the danger zone, told AP.
Mount Sinabung is located 88 kilometers from the provincial capital city of Medan. Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, is also home to the world’s largest number of active volcanoes.