Mt. Sinabung in North Sumatra still on Red Alert

Tuesday, 14 September 2010 | 634

Mt. Sinabung located some 60 km. south west of the city of Medan, -  capital of North Sumatra, -  erupted suddenly just past midnight on Sunday,29 August at 0.08 am local time, forcing villagers to flee the mountain in the deep of the night. The volcano has been dormant for 400 years.  Hardly 24 hours earlier when Mt. Sinabung emitted smoke, Head of Indonesia’s Vulcanological  Centre,  Surono, had told the press that there was no need for concern and therefore no evacuation of the population surrounding the mountain was needed.   After the first eruption, when Sinabung spewed smoke and gas up 1,500 meters, the government immediately raised the Red Alert which still remains in force until today. Three more eruptions came the following week with powerful rumblings and ash rising up 2, 500 meters spreading volcanic material over some 8 km.  

Today, more than 23,000 evacuees still await the signal that it is safe to return to their homes, but experts predict that this will be a while yet, since not much is known on the behaviour of this particular volcano.  Meanwhile, food kitchens and shelters have been set up, but there is still a pressing need for sanitation facilities in these crammed emergency shelters.Scientific data were compiled by Dutch scientists since the year 1600, and no data are available before except through legends. Located along the Ring of Fire, Indonesia has 150 volcanoes, of which 80 are in the Type A category, or those that have erupted after 1600, and 34 are in the B category, meaning those that have erupted just before or around 1600. The remainder, or the C type have no known eruptions.As Indonesia has focused on monitoring the type A volcanoes, little is known of the behaviour of Mt. Sinabung as no equipment had been stationed here.  

Experts, however, are concerned that just because the mountain has not erupted for 4 centuries, it holds a lot of suppressed energy and are therefore taking no chances. This is the reason why the red alert will not be lifted soon.      Mt. Sinabung and neighbouring Mt. Sibayak have made the area very fertile and is the largest producer for vegetables, fruits and flowers of North Sumatra.  The town of Berastagi lying on the foot of the mountains is a favourite mountain resort, and lies on the road to Lake Toba.  So far, only small planes connecting Nias and Sibolga in the west flying to Medan’s Polonia airport have been affected, and are forced to make large detours to avoid volcanic particles gettingn into the plane. While air traffic to and from Polonia airport has so far continued as per normal.