Pacific Islands have been having a hard time of it recently. The area has been slaughtered by a series of devastating natural disasters, topped most recently by the eruption of volcanoes in Indonesia. Indonesia escaped the worst of the storms that recently devastated the Philippines; however, its luck ran out last night with the continuous eruption of volcanoes Mount Sinabung.
Mount Sinabung has been dormant for over 400 years, and was believed to be entirely inactive. Earlier in 2013, the volcanoes began displaying signs of activity. Smoke was seen on rare occasions being spewed from the top of the volcano, and resident of the island claimed the volcano was making rumbling noises. These should have been indicative warning signs that the volcano may erupt or increase in more violent activity.
In spite of this, the inhabitants of the island were unprepared for Mount Sinabung’s eruptions. Seemingly sporadic in nature, the volcano erupted more than 50 times on Saturday night. Shortly after midnight, the volcanoes spurted gas from its summit, followed by a river of lava. Rocks and debris were also emitted from the volcano during the eruptions. After the initial large eruption, the volcano continues to emit gas up to 13,000 feet (4,000 metres) above its summit. Residents of North Sumatra were warned by government officials over megaphones and intercoms shortly after the volcano erupted that a Red Alert was in place and evacuation necessary. As the eruption occurred during the night, there were obvious logistical problems in evacuation; however, there have been no fatalities.
Terrified villagers living on the mountainside of the volcano were forced to leave their homes when the eruptions began but the warnings were insufficient for them to pack or bring any belongings with them. Panicked and unprepared, it is believed thousands of people have been displaced and are now reliant on the hospitality of lower lying towns and villages. A layer of ash has spread far across the island, covering the majority of towns. So while residents may have escaped the worst of it and there are no reported fatalities yet, there is still a mountain of issues to follow.
In addition to the large quantities of ash that have been spread across the island causing people to lose their homes, the ash affects the health and nervous system greatly. Breathing problems are the main complaint by those admitted to hospital. Soldiers have joined in the clean-up mission, as well as smaller rescue missions for stranded residents.
Mount Sinabung is part of a series of volcanoes located in the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. Although it threatened to erupt once in 2010 and lies in the centre of the world’s most active volcanoes, it was not considered a threat to human life until the recent eruption. In spite of this, the effects of the small gas eruption in 2010 killed two nearby inhabitants. Since September, residents have feared the volcano would erupt, as the other 130 volcanoes in the area showed an increase in seismic activity.
Experts speculate that the eruption may be linked to the current weather problems in that area of the Pacific. Ninety per cent of the world’s earthquakes also occur in the region, and combined with the storms, the situation in Indonesia and the Philippines has been exacerbated. Authorities originally introduced a 3 mile exclusion zone surrounding the eruption site, but this has since been extended to 4 miles when the apparent dangers the volcanic ash presented were realised. Airlines have been notified not to fly over the eruption site, as the ash can is problematic for jet engines.