Most of the fatalities in Mount Merapi’s recent string of violent eruptions could have been avoided if the people living on the slopes of the mountain had thought rationally and followed the government’s warnings, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says.
Since it started erupting last Tuesday, the world’s most active volcano has killed 38 people and injured scores more.
“If only our people had really listened to what the government said. If only our people had been more rational...,” Yudhoyono said upon his arrival Tuesday afternoon to Ahmad Yani Airport in Central Java’s capital of Semarang, after listening to the latest update on the eruptions from Central Java Governor Bibit Waluyo.
“This is a big lesson for us. We can be a more rational nation, have faith in the Almighty and yet understand the way things work from a scientific point of view,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.
The President was scheduled to leave to Yogyakarta on Tuesday evening to visit refugee camps in a number of areas on Wednesday.
Many residents living on Merapi’s slopes were reluctant to move to shelters when the volcano was put on the highest alert status last Monday. When the mountain erupted the following day, hot clouds of ash killed scores of people, including the mountain’s so-called spiritual guardian Mbah Maridjan.
Since then Merapi has continued to erupt sporadically, with huge eruptions on Saturday and Monday.
On Tuesday, the volcano, which is located on the border of Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces, continued to spew hot ash clouds, but with less intensity.
The volcano has coughed up more than 1 million cubic meters of volcanic material since Oct. 30, according to the Volcanic Technology Development and Research Center in Yogyakarta. The center forecast the volcano would continue to cough up volcanic material.
The eruptions have prompted thousands of residents to move to refugee shelters, including many who live outside of the 10-kilometer radius danger zone.
Wukirsari shelter was designed to accommodate 1,500 people but currently holds more than 3,000 residents, Rosyid, the shelter’s official, said.
He said some refugees had been moved to a pesantren (Islamic boarding school) and another shelter in Umbulharjo, with priority given to villagers from the worst-hit Kinahrejo village, whose houses were destroyed in the eruption.
In Sleman regency, the authorities have built seven shelters to accommodate about 12,000 refugees, all of which were running at overcapacity.
Thousands more refugees have sought shelter in three other regencies near Merapi.
“The number of Merapi refugees has hit 22,000 people,” Sleman Regent Sri Purnomo said.
Head of the geology division at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, R. Sukhyar, said on Tuesday it was expected that the intensity of Merapi’s eruptions would decrease.