Yogyakarta. Mayor Herry Zudianto on Tuesday declared the city was under disaster emergency status after lahar, or cold volcanic mud, from Mount Merapi flowed through the Code River and inundated hundreds of houses, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate.
“This is only to help us cope with floods and refugees in a more comprehensive manner. It does not mean the city is unsafe to visit,” the mayor said.
No deaths were reported in the flooding on Monday that affected four districts — Gondolayu, Danurejan, Prawirodirjan and Keparakan. The flooding was reportedly up to two meters deep in some areas.
“The total number of refugees from the lahar flood disaster is still being counted and appears to be growing. However, we have not received any reports of deaths,” said Haryadi Suyuti, deputy mayor of the city.
However, the evacuation and response were hampered since the lahar also cut off road access and damaged several bridges.
In addition, hundreds of people from outside the flood area came in droves to see the disaster, which contributed to traffic jams.
Eko Suryo Maharsono, Yogyakarta’s agency head of settlements and regional infrastructure, said that about a thousand residents have been evacuated from their homes along the Code River’s banks, “including some people who got trapped in their homes.”
According to him, residents were allowed to go back to their homes on Tuesday but the local government expected them to return to the camps at night in case of subsequent flooding.
Residents earlier this month built temporary levees more than a meter high using sandbags along the banks of the river. The Code runs down the slopes of Merapi and through the center of the city.
But authorities have warned that the river would not be able to channel the large amount of volcanic mud from what has been Merapi’s largest eruptions in more than a century.
“I’ve warned people to stay 300 meters away from the river. I do not know why they still live in homes along the Code,” said Surono, head of the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency (PVMBG).
“The disaster could come again at any time if the rains fall on the mountain’s summit.”
Haryadi said the local government has set up 94 evacuation points for the 13,000 residents who lived along the banks of the river.
“We are ready to accommodate residents from 66 neighborhoods of 15 villages in eight subdistricts,” he said.
“The evacuation points are determined by the residents themselves to make monitoring one another easier.”
Sr. Comr. Tjiptono, Yogyakarta’s deputy chief of police, said that hundreds of policemen had been deployed to maintain security of the villages and prevent looting or theft.
“Before the Code River overflowed, we received reports that heavy rain fell in the upstream Boyong and Woro rivers, both of which lie on the slopes of Mount Merapi,” he said.
Tjiptono added that the police had to divert traffic to cope with congestion and the number of access roads cut off. ”People from outside of the flood area are asked to not disrupt the evacuation,” he said.