INDONESIA - Heavy downpours in Karo regency, North Sumatra, over the last week have triggered lahars (volcanic mud flow) on the slopes of Mount Sinabung that have affected several subdistricts in the region.
One such lahar has reportedly isolated over 300 residents of Perbaji after destroying a bridge.
"Three subdistricts have been cut-off because of the lahar flood. But Perbaji was the worst-hit. The other two subdistricts, Mardinding and Kutambaru, could be re-accessed once the volcanic debris was cleared from the road," acting Mardinding subdistrict head Minarti Sembiring said on Sunday.
Minarti said that lahars from Mt. Sinabung had been afflicting the subdistrict for almost a week, paralysing agricultural activities and destroying fields and road infrastructure.
Hundreds of farmers, especially those with fields on the slopes, are at the mercy of the lahars, she said.
"Many of their fields are located on a valley or a cavity, so that when a lahar flow hits, the areas are covered by the materials," Minarti said.
She added that as of Sunday, access to Perbaji remained closed. She said no efforts had been made so far by local administrations to reach them.
Baron Kaban, who is head of the Karo Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), said the lahars were extremely powerful.
In addition to the Perbaji bridge, floods also destroyed roads in Mardinding, Sukatendel and Kutambaru subdistricts.
Baron called on all people, especially those living at the foot of Mt. Sinabung, to be on guard for the possibility of more lahars.
Quoting a report from the volcanology centre, Kaban said the threat of lahars would continue because of the huge amount of volcanic material that has accumulated on the slopes of the volcano after multiple eruptions in the last four years.
Karo Regent Terkelin Brahmana said the regency administration had asked the central government for heavy equipment, among other things.
He said his administration had been overwhelmed by the spate of eruptions in recent months. "We are running out of heavy equipment," he said.
Terkelin also said that a team from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) would visit Karo on Tuesday to monitor the development of Mt. Sinabung's eruptions and the lahar flows.
Mount Sinabung has been erupting regularly since September 2013, when it sprang to life. Thousands of residents were evacuated after the first eruption, returning only last month returning after activity on the volcano began to decrease. Eruptions have killed at least 17 people and destroyed thousands of houses and hundreds of hectares of farmland.
On April 26, Sinabung erupted again, forcing hundreds of residents to flee from Gurukinayan subdistrict, Payung district, and damaging 14 homes, including four Karo customary houses.