As Mount Sinabung Continues to Rumble, Evacuees Face a New Threat — Disease
Aidi Yursal & Nurfika Osman
Jakarta. As different government agencies give varying figures for the number of people evacuated from around the still-erupting Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra, complaints of disease are emerging from the evacuation camps.
A total of 30,052 people have been registered at 21 camps as of Monday afternoon, up from about 19,000 on Sunday, according to the North Sumatra Search and Rescue Agency.
However, Priyadi Kardono, a spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), put the total at 21,096.
The 2,460-meter volcano in Karo district, just 150 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital, Medan, erupted early on Sunday after spewing clouds of ash since Thursday evening.
The area was rocked by another eruption at 6:30 a.m. on Monday that threw ash as high as two kilometers into the sky.
A search and rescue official, Agus Wibisono, said this latest eruption might have caused a surge in the number of evacuees.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) has told the Jakarta Globe that several of the evacuation camps are now experiencing diarrhea epidemics.
Irsal, PMI’s North Sumatra field coordinator, attributed the problem to a lack of clean water at the camps.
“They’re complaining of diarrhea, especially those who have been at the camps since Sunday,” he said, adding that the number of evacuees in Karo alone had reached 27,000.
He said the PMI had set up public kitchens and command posts at the camps, and was distributing medical supplies to affected villages.
“We still need more medical supplies because there’s likely to be an increase in the number of diarrhea cases,” Irsal said.
He also said the humanitarian aid being distributed by the local authorities had not yet reached the most critical areas.
“The humanitarian aid hasn’t reached all the affected people. The road access to the affected areas is still good, so I don’t see why the aid still hasn’t been distributed equally,” he said. “We hope the victims are given immediate help.”
Priyadi said his office had asked local disaster agencies to distribute the aid “immediately.”
He said 486 soldiers and 378 police personnel had been deployed to help with the distribution efforts.
Priyadi also said the Health Ministry had distributed face masks and food, and had requested that local health agencies send workers to the evacuation camps. “So far, the agencies have sent 17 people, including doctors and nurses,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Karo district administration’s emergency response office says the evacuation of residents has proceeded smoothly overall, despite Sunday’s protest by a group of evacuees claiming a lack of food and other supplies at one of the temporary camps.
The office’s deputy coordinator, Mbaga Ginting, said on Monday that supplies from the United Nations and foreign donors had not yet reached the area, while the supplies currently being distributed came from the Social Affairs Ministry and local religious organizations.
He added that medical supplies, tents and sleeping mats were currently in short supply.
Andang Santoso, a spokesman for airport operator Angkasa Pura II, said flights between Medan and Jakarta had not been affected by Monday morning’s eruption.
“Only the flights from Medan to Sibolga [also in North Sumatra] were affected,” he said.
“We’re waiting for the ash cloud to disperse before we allow the planes to fly again.”
Mount Sinabung last erupted in 1600, so volcanologists remain unsure how it will behave over the coming days.
The Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency (PVMBG) raised the alert for the volcano to the highest level after Sunday’s blast, which followed days of rumbling.
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, lies on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanos and fault lines circling the Pacific Rim.