As Mt. Kelut Rumbles, Villagers Ignore Warnings

BLITAR, East Java ~ Scores of evacuated villagers ignored mounting warnings of an imminent eruption and returned this week to their homes on the slopes of Mt. Kelut in East Java.

Others refused to leave their homes despite the alert status being raised to the highest level, with the likelihood of an eruption within 24 hours, officials said on Wednesday.

The head of the Mount Kelut monitoring post, Kristanto, said: “Shallow tremors are being detected, meaning the possibility of an eruption remains high.”

Thousands of residents from within a 10-kilometre radius of the crater were evacuated on Tuesday night.

Health Ministry crisis centre chief Rustam Pakaya said 116,300 people were evacuated from Blitar and Kediri districts since Tuesday evening.

However, some villagers have ignored the evacuation call, opting to stay behind to guard their belongings, while others returned home.

Disaster management officer Gatot Subandi said “around 1,000 people were evacuated at midnight, but some of the men returned to their homes this morning and we can’t force them to stay.

“Some older people, who are familiar with the volcano’s behavior, believe that it’s not time for it to erupt.”

Local resident Sutarmin said he felt uneasy waiting in the evacuation shelter while his goats remained alone in the village.

Evacuation drills have been conducted in at least nine villages near Mount Kelut over the past week.

“There have been no problems so far with the evacuation and facilities for residents. But if the volcano erupts, then the unpredictable direction of the lava will be what we have to be aware of,” Subandi said.

An official at the volcanology office said signs of an imminent eruption were much stronger than in the lead-up to the last eruption of the 1,731-metre volcano, in 1990.

An estimated 15,000 people have been killed by the volcano in the last 500 years, including around 10,000 in a 1568 eruption.

Although Mount Kelut’s slopes are sparsely inhabited, the plain in the shadow of the volcano is densely populated. The peak is also a popular destination with tourists.

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