Mt. Sinabung continues its volcanic activity, flights to Medan and tourism as per normal

Thursday, 23 January 2014 | 1819

On 15 September 2013, Sinabung near the hill towns of Berastagi and Kabanjahe in the Karo highlands of North Sumatra, erupted again, first making its presence felt through earthquakes then again sending smoke and ash high up in the air, causing people living around its crater to scramble to safety. Since then, the volcano has not ceased its activities, lately throwing plumes of thick black smoke up 7 km in the air, while hot pyroclactic clouds rolled dramatically down its slopes.      


Air traffic to and from the new Kuala Namu International Airport of Medan, and tours to Lake Toba, however, thankfully, remained unaffected, and no casualties have been recorded.


Hereupon, the government raised the volcano’s status to Alert, extending the danger zone from 3 km to 5 km from the crater. From September onwards until today, 23 January 2014, Mt. Sinabung has not stopped its activity, at times erupting tens of times a day.  The number of villagers who have escaped to safety has also grown through the months from 17,000 in September to 28,000 today. Many have been at the evacuation centers already for over four months.  


And no one can predict when exactly Mt. Sinabung will reduce its activities or perhaps even erupt more violently. This is because, as a type B volcano (dormant volcano), there are no historic records available.  Indonesia has records of 127 volcanoes active volcanoes which are constantly monitored, but Sinabung is not included in the list, its latest activity shown to be in 1600, or over 413 years ago. Therefore, the authorities have insisted to continue to keep the volcano under Alert status, especially since it still keeps spewing smoke daily.


The area around the slopes of Sinabung was a very fertile area producing rich harvests of vegetables and fruits, including potatoes, cauliflowers, tomatoes and chillies, besides juicy mandarin oranges.  Much of its produce was exported to Singapore. Since Sinabung had long been dormant, villagers worked the soil to as close as 1 km from the crater.  But now that much of the area,  even to over 5 km distance,  has been covered with ash for months, harvests have failed,  thus leaving evacuees in the many shelters not only homeless but also having lost their livelihood.


And so the volcanic eruption which was at first considered as a local disaster is now being raised into a disaster of national proportion. 

Photo Courtesy Reuters