Central Java prepares for worst as Mt Merapi eruptions increase

Incandescent lava has been spewing from Mount Merapi's crater, and the volcano has been emitting booming sounds resembling thunder more frequently. PHOTO: REUTERS

KLATEN, CENTRAL JAVA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Mount Merapi, which stands on the border between Yogyakarta and Central Java, has shown heightened volcanic activity over the past few days, spewing incandescent lava from its crater.

Sidorejo subdistrict head Jemakir said that apart from incandescent lava, the volcano was emitting booming sounds resembling thunder more frequently, prompting local residents to also increase the frequency of their independently organised patrols.

"The people are still calm because the lava so far has flowed only 500m to 800m down the slope. But we remain alert, in case Merapi erupts," he said on Tuesday (Jan 15).

Sidorejo subdistrict extends to the slopes of Mount Merapi in the northern part of Klaten regency, Central Java.

Mr Dimas Joko, a volunteer monitoring Mount Merapi, said that the volume and the extent of the lava flow were both relatively normal, but that the volunteer team had banned all human activity within a 3km radius from the cratre.

"They may (still) harvest grass or farm, but they are not allowed within a radius of 3km from the crater," he said.

Citing recommendations from the Centre of Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG), Mr Joko said that people were advised to stay away from the upper slopes of the mountain for their own safety, especially considering the lava flow.

Mount Merapi's warning status on Tuesday was still Waspada (caution), the second of the four-tiered national volcano alert system that has been in place since May 2018.

The Central Java Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD Central Java) is working with other regencies to prepare evacuation routes and emergency shelters in anticipation of a major eruption.

BPBD Central Java head Sarwa Pramana said existing Mount Merapi evacuation routes have been heavily damaged by the hundreds of trucks transporting volcanic ash. Conditions have been further worsened by almost daily rainfall in the area.

"Restoring the evacuation routes is very urgent, especially in Klaten. The routes are needed to evacuate people when Merapi's alert level reaches Awas (Danger)," he said.

Mr Sarwa said the most heavily damaged evacuation routes in Klaten included the routes in Kemalang, Manisrenggo and Karangnongko districts. The agency had proposed a budget of 100 billion rupiah (S$9.6 million) to repair the routes.

"I heard that the fund had already been disbursed. Hopefully, construction can begin soon," he said.

Mr Sarwa added that the agency had started calculating logistical needs in case the eruptions worsened, including masks, community kitchens, emergency tents and rehabilitation posts.

"[The calculations] are necessary for smoother mitigation [efforts] at the time of a disaster," he said.

BPBD Central Java had also installed three additional CCTV cameras in Klaten, Magelang and Boyolali to monitor the volcano.

One of the world's most active volcanoes, Mount Merapi is located at the point where four regencies meet: the Central Java regencies of Magelang, Boyolali and Klaten, and Sleman regency in Yogyakarta. At least 353 people were killed and more than 350,000 others were displaced in the 2010 eruption. Most of the victims lived on the volcano's slopes.

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