Mount Merapi eruption 2018: people ordered to stay away as Indonesia’s most active volcano rumbles

A series of eruptions at Mount Merapi in 2010 killed almost 350 people and authorities are taking no chances

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 1:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 4:46pm

Indonesian authorities raised the alert for the volatile Mount Merapi volcano on the densely populated island of Java and ordered people within 3 kilometres (2 miles) to evacuate.

Merapi has erupted four times since Monday, sending out a 3,500 metre (11,483 feet) column of volcanic material and dusting the surrounding region in ash.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the national disaster mitigation agency’s spokesman, said some 660 people living within the exclusion zone have evacuated since early Tuesday.

Indonesia’s geological agency raised Merapi’s alert from normal to “beware” because of its increased activity.

The disaster agency described Merapi’s eruptions as phreatic, which means magma heats up groundwater and vapour is released under pressure.

This month, the airport in Yogyakarta, the closest city to the volcano, was briefly shut down because of the eruptions.

There have been no reports of casualties and operations at the airport have not been affected since.

The 2,968m mountain is about 30km from the Yogyakarta city centre.

About a quarter million people live within a 10km radius of the volcano, according to figures from authorities in surrounding districts. Its last major eruption in 2010 killed 347 people and caused the evacuation of 20,000 villagers.

Through the ages, Indonesians have tilled the fertile volcanic soil on the mountain’s slopes and more recently the volcano has become a tourist site.

Nugroho said climbing on Merapi was prohibited and only disaster agency personnel or related researchers should enter the restricted area.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Indonesian government seismologists monitor more than 120 active volcanoes.

Additional reporting by Reuters