Mt. Sinabung erupts again, threatens Lake Toba Festival

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Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan | Archipelago | Thu, November 19 2015, 3:03 PM

Mount Sinabung in Karo regency, North Sumatra, erupted forcefully once again on Wednesday and may threaten the opening of the Lake Toba Festival by Tourism Minister Arief Yahya in Berastagi, also in Karo, slated for Thursday.

No casualties were reported following the eruption, but pyroclastic flows drifting to the southeast affected a number of villages that have long been abandoned by residents.

“The current wind direction is directed to the southwest, but if it blows to the east the Lake Toba Festival will be disrupted as the spread of ash would reach Berastagi,” Mt. Sinabung Observation Station staff member Deri Hidayat told The Jakarta Post.

Deri said the volcano discharged the clouds at 1:47 a.m. and 9:28 a.m.

He added the pyroclastic clouds, which drifted as far as 3.5 kilometers, affected Bekerah and Simacem villages.

He said both villages had long been left empty as they were inside a designated danger zone.

Deri added that Mt. Sinabung had also emitted volcanic ash to a height of 2,000 meters toward the southwest. He said the spread of ash could disrupt the Lake Toba Festival if the wind changed direction in coming days.

He said volcanic activity could increase within the week, adding that the volcano could discharge a bigger volume of pyroclastic flows and ash.

“The biggest eruption took place on Tuesday, when the volcano discharged pyroclastic clouds 13 times, compared to only twice today,” said Deri.

According to him, the potential for pyroclastic flows remained great due to a lava dome buildup on the southeastern section of the peak.

Deri said the lava dome could collapse anytime and trigger huge pyroclastic flows.

Consequently, added Deri, his office had recommended that the regional administration evacuate human settlements within the danger zone.

When asked for confirmation, Karo Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Matius Sembiring said the eruptions in the last few days were not of serious concern as ash and other materials would not disturb the Lake Toba Festival.

Matius added his office had measures in place should the eruption disrupt the festival.

“Hopefully, Mt. Sinabung will not erupt during the Lake Toba Festival in Berastagi, but should it erupt and disrupt the festival, we have prepared various steps so the festival will run smoothly,” Matius said, without detailing the measures.

The Lake Toba Festival is scheduled to begin on Thursday afternoon.

The annual festival will run until Sunday and will feature activities including an ulos (traditional fabric) carnival, vocal contest and swimming and bodybuilding competitions.

The activities are being funded by the North Sumatra administration and Tourism Ministry at a cost of Rp 3.4 billion (US$260,000).

Since an eruption in September 2013, volcanic activity at Mt. Sinabung has never entirely ceased. Thousands of residents moved away at that time, only returning home last month after the volcano showed decreased activity.

The eruptions have killed at least 17 people and destroyed thousands of houses and hectares of farmland.

A series of eruptions over recent years has also affected business and tourism activities in Berastagi, with many traditional market stalls forced to close and events due to be held in hotels canceled.