Halmahera Volcano Alert Lowered

JAKARTA ~ Thousands of people who fled their homes around the slopes of a smoldering volcano on the northeastern island of Halmahera have been told it is safe to return after the authorities downgraded the alert status.

Mount Gamkonora was put on top alert last Tuesday, meaning experts believed an eruption could be imminent.

“We have downgraded the alert level because the seismic activity of the volcano has somehow grown much quieter, and there have only been fumes emitted from the crater,” Saud Situmorang of Indonesia’s volcanology headquarters in Bandung said on Monday.

He said the smoke curling from the crater was very weak, reaching just 50 to 100 meters high and the tectonic quakes registered were very small. Last week, smoke stretched four kilometers into the air.

“The weakening of the seismic activities of the volcano has been noticed since July 13,” he said.

A statement on the volcanology office website said the downgrade meant “the displaced can return to their respective homes and conduct their daily activities as usual.”

Nearly 9,000 people were evacuated from their homes around the arid slopes of Gamkonora to safe shelters in anticipation of a possible eruption.

The office said there was still a chance that the volcano could make small emissions of smoke or other material but any eruption would not be dangerous or reach settlements.

The effect of such a small eruption would not reach more than a radius of three kilometers from the peak of the mountain, it said.

Indonesia sits on the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire” where continental plates meet, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activity.

Gamkonora, some 2,700 kilometers northeast of Jakarta, has erupted 12 times since records have been kept. It most recently sprang into action in 1987, but no casualties were reported.

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