September 3, 2010

New, More Intense Eruptions Occur In Indonesia

An Indonesian volcano that had been dormant for more than four centuries before erupting earlier this week has once again become active, launching a massive burst of ash some 10,000 feet into the air and forcing nearby villagers, many of whom had just returned home, to once again evacuate.

According to Associated Press (AP) Writer Binsar Bakkara, the force of the eruption was "the strongest so far" and could be felt up to five miles away from the source, Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra. The volcano, which had last erupted in 1600, stunned scientists with eruptions on Sunday and Monday.

A Reuters photographer and television producer witnessed the blast. According to the photographer, they heard "a thundering sound" and "felt tremors five minutes before the eruption," while Heru Asprihanto--also of the news agency--added that the TV producer "said thick smoke and ash hung in the air despite light rain" following the pre-dawn eruption.

Following the initial eruptions earlier this week, University of Brussels professor Alain Bernard warned that additional seismic events were possible. "A volcano with a long repose period could deliver a more powerful eruption," he told the AP, adding that "it takes normally weeks or months" for a blast of severe intensity to occur.

"Last night the area within a six-km (four-mile) radius of the volcano was evacuated, all the police and people who had gone back to guard their homes and livestock got out," Surono, the head of the country's  volcano alert center, told Asprihanto on Friday. "I predicted there would be a big eruption and I was right."

More than 30,000 people were evacuated following the original eruptions on Sunday and Monday, with many of them heading to emergency shelters or churches, according to Andi Arief, the Indonesian Presidential Advisor on Disaster.

"The air was thick with the smell of sulfur and, despite a soft drizzle, heavy smoke limited visibility to just a few yards (meters)," Bakkara reported Friday morning. "Some small domestic hopper flights had to be diverted, according to Bambang Ervan, the transportation ministry's spokesman. International air travel was unaffected."

"Most of the villages close to the volcano were empty, apart from a handful of men and boys guarding homes. Several farmers were seen heading back from refugee camps to tend crops of carrots and potatoes," added Asprihanto, noting that today's ash eruption was "three times stronger than the initial one recorded last Sunday."


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