Mount Merapi erupted again Wednesday in the biggest volcanic blast yet, expulsing hot clouds of ash 9 kilometers from its crater and sending residents fleeing in panic.
The Wednesday eruption prompted authorities to expand the danger zone to a 15-kilometer radius from the mountain’s crater, from the previous 10 kilometers, and to close at least three shelters.
The conditions on the ground were worsened by heavy rain in the region. Head of Yogyakarta’s Volcanic Technology Development and Research Center, Subandrio, said there were indications that pressure was still high inside Merapi.
“This can be seen from the hot clouds that have been rising from the mountain’s peak since noon,” Subandrio said Wednesday.
Data provided by the center showed the volcano had started to expel hot clouds of ash at about noon. The eruptions were followed by several tremors.
He said the quakes indicated there was pent up energy inside Mount Merapi which wanted to get out but was still stuck, he said.
A new lava dome had formed on Merapi’s crater by late Wednesday evening following the large eruption. Geologists said they expected the dome would reduce the energy inside the volcano.
Chief of the Volcanic and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center, Surono, said the new lava dome would make ensuing eruptions less powerful.
However, he added, as the new dome was still being formed and was not yet stable, there was a threat of more hot ash clouds.
The latest development, he said, did not mean Merapi was by any means safe, adding that the volcano was still on the highest alert status and that residents should remain in shelters.
“If everyone pays attention to the warnings, we will be safe,” Surono said.
Since the volcano started erupting last Tuesday, a day after the activity status was raised to the highest level, 39 people have been killed by hot ash clouds and thousands of residents from the four surrounding regencies in Yogyakarta and Central Java provinces have fled their homes.
The rain on Wednesday made it more difficult for experts to observe the volcano, but the signs were clear enough that the danger zone should be increased.
“After observing Merapi’s activity [on Wednesday], we expanded the danger zone to 15 kilometers,” Surono said.
Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X reported to the visiting President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday that a number of areas on the mountain’s slopes had been destroyed by the first eruptions, meaning that residents of those areas would not be able to return immediately to their normal activities.
“Those in Kaliurang suffered great losses. Restaurants, hotels and banks are not open because the area is closed,” he told Yudhoyono in Pakem district, Sleman regency.
He said there were now 21,973 people living in nine shelters set up in Sleman regency.
In Central Java’s three regencies — Klaten, Boyolali and Magelang — the disaster has forced about 50,000 residents to move to 58 shelters.
The President and his entourage were in Yogyakarta to visit evacuation centers in Sleman regency and Klaten, Central Java. In Purwobinangun shelter in Sleman, Yudhoyono shared a meal with refugees.
He said it would be better for the affected residents and their families to stay in the shelters for the time being for their own safety.
The government, he added,would take care of their daily necessities.
“Don’t rush to go home, the government will meet your daily needs,” Yudhoyono said. He also asked the residents to remain patient and asked them to unite in the face of the country’s many disasters.
“In any country, there are always a shortcoming in dealing with a disaster. Let’s deal with the shortcomings together,” Yudhoyono said.