The Jakarta Post
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has expressed his sadness at the deaths of over 15 people reportedly killed by pyroclastic clouds emitted by Mount Sinabung.
'I'm so sad because I had warned all people to remain at the evacuation shelters, to be patient and not return to their villages if conditions were not safe enough,' he said on his Twitter account @SBYudhoyono on Sunday.
SBY's warning to residents in the vicinity of Mt. Sinabung to not enter dangerous areas did not seem to be heeded on the ground.
Many residents said they could return home easily as access to their villages was not blocked.
Some areas near the mountain had even become locations where people watched the volcano, until Saturday when it erupted.
On Sunday, one more resident, Surya Sembiring, died after being treated for burns at Evarina Ethatam Hospital in Kabanjahe.
Three more were feared dead due to hot ash falling in Suka Meriah village, located within a 3-kilometer radius of the volcano.
Rescuers stopped searching for victims on Sunday as the area was blanketed by thick ash.
One of the rescuers, Hanin Dito of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), said the village was fully blanketed by thick ash.
'The location is covered by volcanic ash and thick dust and its very hot there, so we couldn't enter the area,' Hanin told The Jakarta Post after returning from Suka Meriah.
He said his rescue team had marked the locations of the three bodies on Saturday. 'But the marks vanished, blanketed by the ash. It's difficult to find them today.'
He said he managed to find an active cell phone, camera cleaner and camera lens seal belonging to one of the victims, named Thomas Sembiring.
National Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB) head Syamsul Maarif confirmed on Sunday the search for victims was temporarily halted due to eruptions, which would continue on Monday.
The deaths have increased the number of Mt. Sinabung's victims.
Previously, at least 14 villagers died due to illness because of long stays in the shelters.
Thousands of residents of villages around the mountain have been evacuated and now live in shelters since eruptions began in September last year. Thousands of houses and buildings have also collapsed due to thick ash.
The continuing eruptions may postpone the government's plan to return 13,828 evacuees whose homes lie beyond a 5-km radius of the volcano.
Meanwhile, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said evacuees from 16 villages could return home when the emergency status of the volcano was decreased at the end of this month or next month.
'Residents from 16 villages in the four districts of Payung, Simpang Empat, Namntran and Tiganderket can return home following the decrease in status,' Sutopo said as quoted by Antara news agency on Sunday.
He said the evacuees were from the villages of Cimbang, Ujung Payung, Payung, Rimo Kayu, Batu Karang, Jeraya, Pintu Besi, Pancur, Naman, Kuta Mbelin, Gung Pinto, Sukandebi, Tiganderket, Kuta Mbatu and Tanjung Merawa.
Sutopo said the return of the evacuees would be conducted in three stages, with the first phase involving the return of 13,828 people or 4,639 families, the second phase with 15,982 people or 4,645 families and the last phase 1,109 families.
He said displaced people from designated 'red zones' were still not allowed to return home.
They are the residents of the villages of Suka Meriah, Guru Kinayan, Selandi, Berastepu, Sibintun, Gamber, Kuta Tengah, Lau Kawar, Bekerah, Simacem, Kutarayat, Sigaranggarang, Kuta Tonggal, Sukanalu, Kuta Gunung, Marinding, Temberun and Perbaji.
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