Yogyakarta. Four weeks after blowing its gasket and then seeming to quieten down, Mount Merapi is back in business, the government’s chief volcanologist has warned.
Last Thursday Merapi had just one eruption, while on Tuesday it had at least 20.
Surono, head of the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Management Agency (PVMBG), said that while the volcano did not seem to have erupted since Nov. 5, it was in fact still spewing ash and rock, albeit in a different direction.
“Most of the initial eruptions threw the ash south toward Sleman in Yogyakarta, but now it’s blowing west toward Magelang in Central Java,” Surono said.
He said the latest eruptions were not as powerful because of the formation of three new lava vents in addition to the main one in the crater.
This had helped lessen the intensity of the eruptions.
“If you look at the mountain’s peak at night, you’ll notice three small glowing points,” Surono said.
“That’s actually a good sign because it means the volcano is releasing all its pent-up energy more quickly.”
He also announced a drawback of the exclusion zone in Central Java’s Boyolali and Klaten districts to 10 kilometers from Merapi’s crater.
The exclusion radius in Sleman and Magelang remains 15 kilometers.
“Although we’ve drawn the radius back in some areas, we still don’t advise going within 10 kilometers of the crater,” Surono said.
“That limit only refers to the safe distance from a pyroclastic flow, which is still the biggest danger on the mountain, but there are other dangers too.”
He said the alert status for Merapi would remain at the highest level, despite the receding exclusion zone.
Meanwhile, search and rescue operations in Sleman were suspended indefinitely on Wednesday as rescuers waited for heavy machinery to be brought in.
The army, which is leading the operation, said rescuers had had to use shovels to dig bodies from the rubble and ash.
“We need heavy machinery to dig bodies more quickly from beneath thick layers of ash, so for that reason we’ve suspended all search operations in villages around the Gendol River,” said Capt. Arip Subagyo, the search and rescue team coordinator.
He said the operations had also been suspended to allow rescuers to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Idul Adha.
Over at the Jogja Expo Center, thousands of evacuees and Yogyakarta residents joined in Tuesday morning prayers for Idul Adha, led by Tasman Hamami, vice rector of the city’s Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University.
The worshippers, followers of Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Islamic organization, celebrated the holiday a day before most other Muslims.
In his sermon, Tasman likened the holiday, which celebrates Abraham’s intent to sacrifice his son, with the hardship facing those affected by the eruptions.
“Abraham and Ishmael chose to do as Allah ordered because of their love for him, and this is the attitude we should be adopting,” he said.
All the meat from the animals sacrificed later in the day were donated to the 1,300 evacuees now staying at the center.
Meanwhile, the Sleman administration will hold an interfaith prayer gathering and donation drive today for those affected by the volcano.
Untoro Budiharjo, head of the Sleman Culture and Tourism Office, said the tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes needed spiritual help in addition to the food and medicine.
“So we’re holding this prayer to boost their morale in the wake of this disaster,” he said.
Untoro said the prayer session would be led by religious leaders from various denominations, and would also feature the participation of several local culture and arts troupes, universities and provincial officials.