Yogyakarta. Despite repeated warnings from police and rescue workers, many people still insist on entering the 20-kilometer danger zone surrounding the rumbling Mount Merapi.
But, as authorities have cautioned, they do so at their own risk.
Despite being a nuisance for police officers and tired volunteer rescue workers, hundreds of people over the weekend attempted to cross the Pamungkas traffic lights in Ngemplak, the intersection that sits on the very edge of the officially demarcated danger zone.
Some were evacuees desperate to retrieve valuables left behind, but many were simply curious thrill-seekers, police said.
Even though officers stopped vehicles and tried to persuade their occupants to turn around, they had no legal basis to stop them because martial law has yet to be declared.
Merapi continues to belch out deadly pyroclastic flows, clouds of superheated ash and gases, in what geologists say is the volcano’s most powerful eruption in more than a century.
At least 135 people have died on its slopes over the past two weeks, and authorities were still struggling on Sunday to help those injured from Friday’s massive eruption.
The National Police on Friday even temporarily closed at least three police subprecincts located 10 kilometers from the crater. But none of these seem to bother the insistent public.
Pakem Police chief Adj. Comr. Harijanto said on Sunday that he had run out of breath from repeatedly telling people to move as far away from the danger zone as possible.
The trespassers on Sunday were mostly curious folk, “not villagers concerned about the welfare of their livestock,” he said.
Hantoro, chief of Sleman Police’s Mobile Brigade unit (Brimob), has been overseeing a checkpoint in Ngemplak since Friday and has heard almost every excuse from those desperate to get into the danger zone.
“Don’t be so reckless. This is very dangerous,” Hantoro told a young man on Saturday evening.
“I have to get my diploma; it’s still up there,” the man replied. “Aren’t you afraid of dying?”
Hantoro said, to which the man replied: “I’d rather die than not get my diploma.”
As the man went past him, Hantoro reminded him that the police were no longer responsible for his safety.
“I hope the rescue team doesn’t end up finding your corpse,” he said.
Dozens of young couples on motorcycles rode past reluctant officers, saying they needed to go to the Islamic University of Indonesia (UII) campus, located within the danger zone, to fetch archives, books and computers.
When the majority did not return an hour later, officers went searching for them in the dark but could not find anyone.
Most who tried to enter the danger zone said they wanted to spend Saturday night at the hill resorts that had been deserted in Sleman.
Entire villages have also been abandoned.
Markets, shops, schools, two hospitals and a bus station were also shut down.
“We don’t understand why the villagers still go home to feed their livestock even though the president has guaranteed compensation for lost or dead cattle,” said a Police spokeswoman.