Accessibility links

Indonesian Volcano Grounds Planes; Evacuated Residents Restless to Go Home


Evacuees gather to watch television to stave off boredom at the Wonokerto evacuation shelter

Evacuees gather to watch television to stave off boredom at the Wonokerto evacuation shelter

Thousands of Indonesians forced from their homes because of Mount Merapi's continued eruptions are restless to leave the evacuation shelters. And the volcano's ash clouds now are forcing airlines to cancel some flights.

A week after Indonesia's most active volcano began shooting searing gas clouds from its crater, restless evacuees say they are tired of living in hot, cramped shelters. But repeated explosions signal that the volcano, known here as "Fire Mountain," is not ready to let them go home.

Continued blasts have not deterred many families from heading back up the mountain. They go to check on their homes and cattle. At night, they return, packing into overcrowded camps to sleep on thin mats among thousands.

Volunteers say some shelters only have five toilets for every 1,000 people, and while food and medicine is adequate, people have little to do.

Sipun has been at the Wonokerto evacuation shelter since the first eruption. She is one of nearly 70,000 evacuees, and says that while she is scared to go back until the volcano has stopped its activity, she is growing impatient.

Sipun says it is not comfortable here. Her children are always crying and asking for money to buy snacks. But how can she provide for them if she is here in the camp and not working, she asks.

To ease the trauma of relocation, groups of students have come to play games and entertain the thousands of children whose schools have been shuttered.

Although the volcano is calmer, ash continues to rain down on houses and crops whenever the wind shifts.

People regularly stop on roadsides during the morning to snap pictures of the puffy white plume that billows from Merapi's crater. Those who live on the mountain call it "wedus gembel," or sheep's fur.

Earlier, concerns that villagers were defying eviction orders led the government to send the military to keep people out of the 10-kilometer safe zone ringing the volcano. But farmers make daily trips with the army's consent.

Soldiers say they understand that peoples' lives are intimately connected with the land, and they cannot prevent them from protecting their livelihoods.

The 11,000 people who live on the volcano's slopes also have deep spiritual beliefs about its activity.

Those staying in the shelters say they know best when it is safe to go back. Sunarno, a farmer in a village eight kilometers from Merapi's summit, grew up on the volcano.

He has lived there since he was a kid. So, Sunarno says, he knows what it looks like when it will erupt. If there is a danger he will go to an evacuation center, and if it is safe he will go back to his home.

The volcano's ash clouds have forced airlines to cancel flights to the nearby cities of Solo and Yogyakarta. However, so far, international air traffic around Indonesia has been little affected by the eruptions.

A blast on Monday was the volcano's most powerful so far. It cracked the air, stirring panic among evacuees, who scrambled for cover. The head of Indonesia's volcanology agency says the eruption broke through the lava dome, where pressure had been building.

But there were few warning signs before the explosion. Scientists monitoring the volcano say it could continue to erupt for weeks. As a precaution they have raised the alert level on 21 other volcanoes around Indonesia.

The country sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity.

XS
SM
MD
LG