JAKARTA - Just over a year ago, an eruption from Mount Sinabung killed 14 people and forced more than 33,000 others to evacuate their homes. The volcano began erupting again on Sunday, emitting pyroclastic flows that were the largest for five months.
Local people panicked, including those who are still living in evacuation shelters since the volcano began erupting on Sept. 15 last year, because of the size of the flows and clouds of volcanic ash, which extended to Berastagi city, 13 kilometers from Sinabung.
"We had returned from the evacuation centers and have been in our homes for only nine months, but today's eruptions are worrying. The pyroclastic flows frightened us," Sukandebi subdistrict head Asli Sitepu told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
The volcano erupted again in February this year, killing 17 people, most of whom were students.
Armen, an official at the Mt. Sinabung observation post, said volcanic activity had intensified lately, following a few months of relative calm. He called on locals, therefore, to increase their alertness.
"Both the local people and tourists are advised to remain cautious of possible eruptions from Mt. Sinabung that can happen at any time," Armen said.
Commander of the Sinabung Emergency Response Task Force, Lt. Col. Asep Sukarna, said that for quite some time, the volcano's eruptions had not emitted pyroclastic flows.
"These were the largest flows since June this year. They travelled up to 4.5 km down the slope to the south of villages," Asep told the Post on Sunday.
A report by the Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center (PVMBG) showed that the volcano began erupting on Sunday at 1:46 a.m. local time, sending forth pyroclastic flows as far as 4.5 km.
A second eruption took place at 6:38 a.m., with pyroclastic flows reaching 2.5 km; a third occurred at 7:36 a.m. with flows reaching 3 km, and a fourth eruption took place at 7:53 a.m., sending pyroclastic flows up to 4.5 km.
The pyroclastic flows decreased in the volcano's fifth eruption at 9 a.m., but increased again as far as 4.5 km during its sixth eruption at about 12 p.m.
Asep added that apart from the pyroclastic flows, Sunday's eruptions also emitted volcanic ash up to 3 kilometers into the sky.
"Because of that, we have been distributing masks to locals and tourists visiting Berastagi today [Sunday]," Asep said.
He added that Sinabung's alert status remained at the penultimate alert status, siaga, despite the increase in volcanic activity.
With regard to the number of people displaced by Mt. Sinabung's eruptions, Asep said that nobody had evacuated during Sunday's eruptions, adding that the number of existing evacuees was liable to come down in the near future.
"The number of evacuees continues to decrease. As of today, there are still 3,287 evacuees from 1,019 families. We aim to have them all back in their homes by the end of the year," he said.