Govt to Clear Out Palue Island Amid Volcanic Threat

In this photograph taken from a rescue boat on August 12, 2013, Mount Rokatenda volcano emits a column of steam and ash. (AFP Photo)

In this photograph taken from a rescue boat on August 12, 2013, Mount Rokatenda volcano emits a column of steam and ash. (AFP Photo)

Residents living on the tiny island of Palue, in East Nusa Tenggara,will be moved to a nearby island over concern that the erupting Mount Rokatenda could become a larger threat, a disaster mitigation agency official said on Saturday.

“The island of Palue is no longer a safe place to live with the constant danger of the volcanic eruption threatening people’s lives,” Tini Thadeus, the head of the provincial disaster mitigation agency, said. “The island must be emptied immediately.”

Mount Rokatenda began to erupt on August 7, killing five as hot lava flows poured down the side of the volcano and hot ash blanketed the island’s villages. Thousands have already been evacuated from villages on the mountain’s slopes to emergency shelters in nearby Sikka district.

More than 6,000 residents remain on the island in spite of the danger, arguing that local customs forbid them from abandoning their ancestral lands. The government has sent crews to the tiny island in an attempt to convince residents to permanently move to Pulau Besar, in Sikka.

“The central government has made a commitment to empty Palue island because there is a potential that Mount Rokatenda will keep on spewing ashes and hot lava,” Tini said.

The re-emergence of the long dormant undersea volcano on August 20 has compounded fears of a widespread disaster on Palue. The island, disaster officials said, is also in danger of a tsunami if Mount Hobalt erupts.

Under the proposed plan Palue would become a protected forest area and tourism site in the future, Tini said. The government will provide temporary shelter for the island’s residents on Pulau Besar with the hopes that they will permanently resettle.

Despite early efforts to relocated the island’s residents, many now suffer from respiratory problems from the heavy ash coating the island, prompting the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) lawmaker Saleh Husin to accuse the government of ignoring the needs of the displaced residents.

To date, the government has sent Rp 13 billion ($1.2 million) in aid to the island, Tini said.