Candra Malik & Nurfika Osman
Yogyakarta. All routes to Mount Merapi were closed to the public on Friday as the alert status of one of the most active volcanoes in the world was raised to “standby,” just one level below a full-blown eruption.
All residents on the slopes of the mountain have been advised to say outside an eight-kilometer radius from the peak following the issuance of the latest alert status on Thursday evening.
“We also advise people to stay away from the rivers that flow from the mountain because lava may spew out at any time and flow through them,” said Sri Sumarti, Mount Merapi section head at the Volcano Investigation and Technology Development Institution (BPPTK) in Yogyakarta.
Sand miners have been asked to stop all activities, and tourists and mountain climbers have been advised to stay away.
“They are not allowed to approach the disaster-prone areas. There are no exceptions to anyone on appeal. Only authorized personnel may enter to monitor the observation post at a certain distance,” she said.
Junita Parjanti, the spokeswoman of the National Park of Mount Merapi, said no climbing permits had been issued since Sept. 22, when the status was raised from the “active/normal” to “beware.”
Sumarti added that electronic distance measurement readings showed the fattening of the body of Mount Merapi continued to increase.
On Thursday it was recorded at 8.5 centimeters per day, while on Friday increased dramatically to 16.4 centimeters per day.
“On Friday, deep volcanic earthquakes occurred seven times, shallow volcanic earthquake 34 times, multiphase volcanic earthquakes 321 times and lava splashed 93 times,” she said.
The local governments in Yogyakarta, Boyolali, Klaten and Magelang, around Mount Merapi, are now accelerating the preparation of evacuation routes.
But Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X said the government had not yet ordered an evacuation.
“We’re going to see the latest developments of the volcanic activities before issuing the evacuation order,” he said.
“If lava melts just around the top of the mountain and it does not reach the villages, residents would refuse to evacuate. They’re worried their property would be stolen if the houses are abandoned.”
“The mountain never really fully erupts, it just melts. I hope Mount Merapi will not erupt this time. But we will still prepare the evacuation plan for residents.”
Separately, Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih told reporters in a press conference on Friday that the ministry had asked the local health agencies to be ready for a possible eruption of Mt. Merapi.
“We have asked local health agencies to have enough supplies of drugs because when people are evacuated and live in shelters they are at risk of acquiring ISPA [an upper respiratory syndrome], fever, and diarrhea,” Endang said.
“We do not want them experiencing shortage of drugs as well as health officials to help the evacuees,” she said.
Merapi last erupted in 2006, claiming two lives. Its biggest recorded eruption was in 1672, killing about 3,000 people.