Villagers Flee, Flights Disrupted as North Sumatra Volcano Comes to Life
[Updated at 08:50 a.m. on Monday September 16, 2013]
A volcano in North Sumatra’s Karo district erupted on Sunday morning, forcing hundreds of residents to evacuate to nearby villages and forcing the cancelation of several flights at Medan’s newly opened international airport.
Thick columns of ash began billowing from the crater of Mount Sinabung at around 3 a.m., according to reports from the local volcano observatory.
Soon after, a rain of volcanic ash and small rocks began coating the villages of Sukameriah, Kutarayat and Kutagugung, near the foot of the volcano.
The alert level for Sinabung was raised from two on the four-point scale to three. A level-four alert would necessitate a mandatory evacuation order.
Although not ordered to, hundreds of villagers left their homes following the eruption. The Center for Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation (PVMBG) also declared a three-kilometer exclusion radius around the crater of the volcano.
“The evacuees have been placed in buildings and houses around the Karo district office,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said on Sunday.
“We’re still gathering data on the number affected.”
No injuries or damage to property have been reported, Sutopo added. But he said reports from the field were slow to come in because the BNPB did not have a field station in Karo.
“A rapid response team from the BNPB’s provincial office in Medan is heading to the location to coordinate with the Karo district administration,” he said.
An official at the Sinabung observatory, Armen Putra, said the volcano erupted in the early hours of Sunday, at 2.51 a.m., followed by a series of volcanic earthquakes that could be felt in six villages at the foot of the mountain.
“The volcanic ash from the Sinabung blanketed six villages. The locals have left their villages. There are no reports of casualty as yet,” Armen said.
Meanwhile, MetroTVnews.com reported that the eruption also disrupted flights at Medan’s Kualanamu International Airport, with several flights suffering delays.
Airport duty manager Djamal Amri said the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had warned of high concentrations of volcanic ash, which can damage plane engines.
Six flights due in Kualanamu were diverted elsewhere, while flights bound for Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta and Nias, in Aceh, were grounded.
This is Sinabung’s first eruption since 2010. Before that, its last eruption was in the year 1600.