Evacuees hailing from four villages outside a 5-kilometer radius of Mount Sinabung began to return home on Monday to clean up their homes and farms following a series of eruptions that claimed the lives of 16 people.
Officials said the repatriations were given the green light by the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center ( PVMBG ).
Karo regency spokesman Jhonson Tarigan said the PVMBG had announced that it was safe for evacuees from the four villagers to return home as they were located the farthest from Mt. Sinabung. The four villages are Batu Karang, Rimo Kayu, Cimbang and Ujung Payung.
'They are located more than 7 km from Mt. Sinabung and volcanic activity is no longer dangerous,' said Jhonson.
'They will be returned in stages. After this, evacuees from other villages will be returned, but after the PVMBG recommends it,' said Jhonson, adding that the number of evacuees at 42 shelters currently stood at 33,126.
Sinabung Disaster Mitigation Commander Let. Col. Asep Sukarna said all returning evacuees would receive living expenses of Rp 6,000 ( 50 US cents ) per day and 400 grams of rice for 30 days. Asep explained that the living expenses would be distributed once the evacuees were back in their homes.
Asep said evacuees could also participate in the cash-for-work program for 10 days and be paid Rp 50,000 per family.
'The cash assistance and living allowances will be distributed simultaneously to evacuees who have returned to their homes,' said Asep.
Jasa Sitepu of Ujung Payung village said despite being allowed to return home, there was nowhere to live at present as people's homes were blanketed in volcanic ash. Sitepu added that the government had facilitated evacuees to return home on Monday, but they needed more time to clean up their homes and farms.
'I'm happy to be allowed to return home, but my house is still in a mess due to thick volcanic ash. So, I need more time to clean up,' Sitepu said, adding that his house did not suffer any damage.
Meanwhile, PVMBG has warned residents not to conduct any activities within a 5-km radius from the crater of Mount Kelud in East Java following intensified volcanic activity.
On Monday, the agency raised the volcano's alert status from waspada ( alert, level II ) to siaga ( high alert, level III ), PVMBG acting head I Gede Suantika said in Bandung, West Java.
'The frequency of volcanic tremors has increased sharply in the past week,' Suantika said, adding that the temperature of the crater had also increased.
'The temperature has gone up from 52 to between 56 and 57 degrees Celsius.'
Despite the intensified activity, he went on, the PVMBG had yet to recommend that residents be evacuated. Separately in Central Java, Semarang National Search and Rescue Agency ( Basarnas ) head Agus Haryono has advised residents not to hike on mountains in the province due to bad weather. The call was made after recent incidents that claimed one life and injured others.
On Saturday evening, Agus continued, four climbers were struck by lightning on Mt. Sindoro in Temanggung regency.
'They all survived. Three of them suffered minor injuries, while the other was severely injured,' Agus said, adding that the climbers were rescued by a local Disaster Mitigation Agency ( BPBD ) team and were rushed to Ngesti Waluyo Hospital.
On Sunday, a Sultan Agung University ( Unissula ) student, Arifatul Khusna, 21, died while taking part in a program held by the university's mountaineering association ( Mapala ) at Mt. Merbabu in Boyolali regency. It is believed that the death was caused by hypothermia.
Ainur Rohmah contributed to the story from Semarang