VOLCANO FEARS

Sinabung villagers hope to return

BERASTAGI (Indonesia) - When Indonesian farmer Elfi Dalimunthe fled to safety last week as Mount Sinabung in Sumatra hurled hot ash and rocks across the sky, it marked the third time she was forced to abandon her home in recent years.

"I heard a loud booming sound and saw thick ash spewing out," said the 30-year-old, recalling the terrifying eruptions which prompted her family to rush to a temporary shelter.

Ms Elfi fled her small village, just kilometres from Sinabung, for the first time in 2010 for a few weeks due to an eruption and was then forced from her home in September 2013 for more than a year. Even after last week's eruption, she insists that her family will return home, citing the fact that her children are attending schools in the area.


Indonesian farmers at work in Karo, north Sumatra, on Saturday even as Mount Sinabung spewed volcanic ash. -- PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

"I will move when the children are older," she said, sitting on a thin mat in a cramped hall holding about 500 people in the town of Berastagi, where many are sheltering. Up to 10,000 people have been evacuated after an increase in activity on Sinabung this month.

Millions of poor Indonesians live on or near the slopes of active volcanos, where the soil makes for extremely fertile farmland. Many insist on returning to their villages even after major eruptions.

Vegetable seller Syafitri Sitepu fled from her village near Sinabung this week, but said her husband had returned to their home to look after their crops. "He's our family's breadwinner. If he did not work, how would we be able to feed and buy milk for our baby?" said the 30-year-old.

As well as evacuating people, the authorities' immediate concern is securing tents, blankets, clean water and clothing for the thousands forced from their homes, as well as providing counselling to those left traumatised.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Sinabung villagers hope to return'. Print Edition | Subscribe