Thousands Still Flee Volcano: Halmahera, North Maluku

Nearly 8,500 people have fled the slopes of a volcano in Halmahera, North Maluku, after it spewed ash, smoke and debris, officials said, as the volcanology office raised its warning to the highest level.

Surono, head of the Bandung-based Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center, said his subordinates had registered at least 8,439 residents living along the mount’s slopes fleeing to nearby Ibu district in West Halmahera regency.

“We’ve recommended that residents living at a radius of eight kilometers from the mount’s crater to evacuate to Ibu district to avoid discharges of burning materials and thick smoke,” Surono told reporters in Bandung.

He explained that he had sent a team as of to back up officers stationed at the Mount Gamkonora observation post and help evacuation activities. They were scheduled to arrive there on Wednesday, he said.

According to AFP, the volcanology office said volcanic activity at Mount Gamkonora, about 2,700 kilometers northeast of Jakarta, prompted it to raise its warning level to “alert” which means an eruption is imminent.

Spot fires were visible and the crater spewed burning material up to 15 metres from the crater, the office said. People nearby heard two thunderous booms and the column of smoke rising from the crater reached up to 2,500 metres, the office said on its website.

It said that as of early Monday, 8,439 people had moved off the slopes of the 1,635-metre volcano, which last erupted in 1987.
It was unclear how many remained on the slopes and were at risk.

Local official Penta Libela said authorities were helping with the evacuation of villagers and had prepared four safe shelters.

“It is not an official evacuation program. The population panicked because of the eruption and fled on their own and as the local government, we are merely helping by providing more vehicles and assigning temporary shelters,” Libela said early Monday.

Indonesia sits on the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire,” where continental plates meet, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity. The archipelago nation has the world’s highest number of active volcanoes.

Gamkonora has erupted 12 times
since records have been kept.
The volcano typically spews heat clouds, or pyroclastic flows, along with lava streams toward villages in the west and northwest of Halmahera island, rather than exploding, the volcanology website said.

Yuli Tri Suwarni