Volcanic Flooding Brings Traffic to a Crawl on Highway
Traffic conditions remain congested on the main road connecting Magelang and Yogyakarta after a flood of volcanic mud sliced through the area on Tuesday, depositing debris along the highway and prompting an 18-hour road closure.
Experts warn more flooding may yet follow. Tuesday’s flood of volcanic material was carried down the slopes of Mount Merapi by the Putih River, destroying bridges and disrupting traffic in its path, although no casualties were reported.
Reopening on Wednesday, the Magelang-Yogyakarta highway is now swamped with gridlocked traffic as authorities have only managed to clear the cold volcanic mud from a single lane heading in each direction.
“There’s a bottleneck section all the vehicles have to pass through, which has brought traffic to a crawl,” said Sungkono, head of the Jumoyo village along the affected route.
He added there has not yet been sufficient time to clear away all the volcanic mud, which is piled up on the shoulder and outer lanes of the road.
“It is all over the place now and we cannot cart it away fast enough,” he said.
Aside from mud, the volcanic flooding brought with it large rocks and debris from damaged buildings, which Sungkono said needed to be broken up into smaller pieces before it could be removed from the roadside.
He said traffic congestion was also exacerbated by the thousands of residents flocking to the area to witness the aftermath of Tuesday’s flooding.
Magelang Police traffic director Adj. Comr. Widiyanto, who visited the area on Wednesday, said the traffic was flowing better than he expected.
“The traffic is moving, albeit very slowly,” he said. “It has not come to a complete standstill.”
However, an expert warned there could be more volcanic flooding in the days ahead.
Bambang Widjaja Hariadi, a volcanologist from Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, said conditions are ripe for another mudflow down the Putih River.
“Given the current levels of rainfall on Mount Merapi, as well as the fact that all the rivers on its slopes are swollen with volcanic material, there is a real risk that more volcanic flooding will follow, similar to what was witnessed on Monday night and Tuesday,” he said.
Several of the smaller rivers feeding into the Putih, including the Blongkeng, Batang and Lamat rivers, have risen so high that they have formed a single channel of water, he added.
“This means that if the heavy rain keeps up, the water will have nowhere else to go but straight into the Putih River,” he said.
“The excess water will also flush more volcanic material, debris and rocks into the river. That’s going to be a direct threat to those living on the banks of the river.”
Bambang said a short-term solution would be to open the dams blocking the smaller rivers further downstream to allow the water level in those rivers to subside, thus splitting them back into separate streams and easing pressure on the Putih River.
“Some residents will still need to be relocated to safer ground in case the volcanic mudflow cannot be controlled,” he said.