Sinabung eruptions disturb refugee return plan
The Jakarta Post
Mount Sinabung, in Karo regency, North Sumatra, erupted again on Monday, jeopardizing a plan to send evacuees home on Feb. 12.
A total of 17 eruptions were recorded between 7:11 a.m. local time and 10:30 a.m., marked with pyroclastic flows and a discharge of volcanic ash.
The Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center (PVMBG) reported that the pyroclastic clouds cascaded up to 4,500 meters southward, while volcanic ash spewed up to 3,500 meters to the northwest and southwest. The roar from the eruption could be heard within a 5-kilometer radius.
'This is the first massive eruption in February. At least 10 villages in Tiganderket and Payung districts have been covered by ash,' Mt. Sinabung Observation Station head Armen Putra told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
Armen said the worst-hit villages impacted by the eruption were Mardinding and Payung. He added that both villages were covered by thick ash as they were the closest to the volcano. However, he said his station did not recommend that residents from the two villages evacuate as the situation remained safe.
'So far, it's still safe. The eruption has yet to immediately threaten people's lives, so residents don't need to evacuate,' said Armen, adding that residents are urged to stay alert as volcanic activity remains high.
When reached for confirmation about the refugee return plan, Karo Regent Terkelin Brahmana said the government would coordinate with the volcanology agency to ensure the return of evacuees. He acknowledged that the eruption on Monday had jeopardized the planned repatriation of evacuees this week.
'We'll see developments in the next few days. If the situation is safe, the plan will go on. We will return the evacuees on schedule,' said Terkelin, urging evacuees to be patient and remain alert in line with the increase in volcanic activity.
Separately, an evacuee from Sukanalu village, Saleh Sitepu, 46, said he was still afraid of the fluctuations in volcanic activity of late. He added that the volcano had been idle for the past month but, once it erupted, the explosion was very strong and caused fear among most of the evacuees who were to return home in the next few days.
'So, we're afraid to return home. The volcanic activity is still high,' said Saleh at the GBKP Protestant Church shelter on Jl. Kutacane, Kabanjahe, Karo, on Monday.
Saleh said he was aware that they would possibly remain at the shelter. He added that they had been at the shelter for more than a year and wished to return home but the conditions did not permit.
'We were about to go home in a few days when Mount Sinabung erupted again. We feel as if we are not allowed to return home just yet,' said Saleh, who is taking refuge with three family members.
He claimed that the government had announced the planned repatriation last week. Saleh added there was yet to be any change regarding the planned return.
'We are still waiting for the government to decide whether or not we will return home, especially following today's eruption,' said Saleh.
As many as 2,443 people, or 795 families, hailing from Sukanalu and Sigarang-garang villages are scheduled to be returned to their respective homes by the Karo regency administration on Feb. 12.
The evacuees will be the last to return home and have spent over a year in evacuation centers due to Mt. Sinabung's frequent eruptions.
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