Indonesia: Evacuation orders in effect as East Java volcano alert remains high

By Elizabeth Kiem

NEW YORK, USA, 19 October 2007 - Over 100,000 people have been evacuated from the region within 10 km of Mt. Kelud, as officials continue to monitor volcanic activity from the East Java volcano.

Tens of thousands of residents in the Kediri and Blithar Districts have heeded the level-four warning, but many are remaining on their property.

"People are reluctant to go away for very long," said UNICEF Indonesia Director of Emergency Operations Mansoor Ali. "Even if they do go away for the night, they tend to come back during the day to do harvesting. This is the situation with most volcanic situations in Indonesia, but in this case it is a very large one."

A deadly history

Mount Kelud last erupted in 1990, killing 35 people. The most catastrophic eruption occurred in 1919, when more than 5,000 people were killed.

Mr. Ali said he did not expect large numbers of casualties in the event of an eruption today, in large part because of emergency preparedness systems in place at the local and national levels.

"The government has limited resources, but they have optimized their resources very effectively. They have trained people on the ground practically in every sub-district," he added.

1 million are vulnerable

UNICEF sent rapid assessment teams to both Kediri and Blithar, and determined that the situation for the 15,000 people in temporary camps was satisfactory. The organization remains on standby to respond to requests from the government. An estimated 1 million people are vulnerable to displacement should a large eruption occur.

In addition to non-food supplies for up to 5,000 refugee families, UNICEF has five teams of emergency responders on standby in the region. Some of these responders have only just completed aid distribution for earthquake victims in South Sumatra, noted Mr. Ali.

"It is quite remarkable how Indonesians sort of treat this in a relatively matter-of-fact way, and yet they are fully alert and fully conscious," he said.