Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Indonesians leave refugee centers, citing lack of food

AP , MOUNT KELUD, INDONESIA

Residents living on the slopes of Mount Kelud in Indonesia arrive back at their village after leaving a temporary shelter in Kediri, East Java, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Thousands of villagers defied warnings of a major eruption at one of Indonesia's deadliest volcanos, leaving refugee centers yesterday and returning to its slopes to tend to crops and animals.

Late Tuesday, up to 50,000 fled or were evacuated from villages close to Mount Kelud after the volcano was placed on the highest alert level, meaning scientists believe an eruption may be imminent.

The 1,731m volcano, which has for several weeks been showing signs of an eruption, last blew its top in 1990, killing dozens of people. In 1919, a powerful explosion destroyed a hundred villages and claimed 5,160 lives.

Despite the danger, local government official Sigit Rahardjo said most of those evacuated returned home yesterday after complaining they had received no food and saying they had to tend to crops.

Witnesses saw scores of trucks loaded with people and thousands of motorbikes leaving temporary evacuation camps and heading back up the mountain.

"There was no food at all," said Darmiashiah, a 33-year-old woman who returned to the village of Sugihwaras, well within in the evacuation zone.

"If I get told to leave again, I will not go," said Darmiashiah, who goes by a single name.

Emergency coordinator Herry Noegroho promised more tents and food at refugee centers.

Unlike some volcanos, Mount Kelud does not smoke or rumble in the run up to an eruption.

Scientists said that the temperature of its crater-lake was rising quickly and they had logged hundreds of volcanic earthquakes triggered deep inside the mountain, both signs an eruption may be imminent.

"It never shows its true nature," said government volcanologist Surono, who goes by a single name. "It is better to raise the status than see people killed."

Kelud is on Java island about 620km east of the capital, Jakarta.

Its explosive activity typically starts with a steam blast -- when surfacing magma meets ground water. Such eruptions produce hot mud flows and pyroclastic surges and flows.

Many people were heeding the warning, however.

"I can still remember the last eruption," said 70-year-old Kasemi who was staying in a government building with dozens of other people. "It went dark because of the ash, and the explosions were terrifying."

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