Residents still skeptical at looming volcanic eruption

AP , MOUNT KELUD, INDONESIA

Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 5

The threat of an eruption at one of Indonesia's deadliest volcanos remains high despite a slowdown in activity over the last 24 hours, a government vulcanologist said yesterday, as frustration mounted among tens of thousands of villagers forced to flee its slopes.

The alert level at Mount Kelud was raised to its highest level one week ago following a series of powerful underground tremors and sharply rising temperatures in the lake of its crater, which has turned from turquoise to white as sulfur levels increased.

But there has been no major activity since Sunday, said Surono, a senior government vulcanologist, making it difficult to convince evacuees to remain in makeshift shelters near its base.

"We are still in a situation of high alert," he said, noting that Mount Kelud has a history of only large eruptions, never small.

The last eruption of Mount Kelud in 1990 killed more than 30 people. In 1919, a powerful explosion that could be heard hundreds of kilometers away killed at least 5,160.

Authorities have ordered 116,000 people living along the volcano's fertile slopes to leave their homes, but more than 12,000 refused, staying to tend farms and protect against possible looting.

Many of those forced to evacuate were losing patience, meanwhile. And money.

Suyatno, 38, who earns US$1 a day picking cloves and coffee beans for a private plantation company, said he was eager to return to his village of Candi Sewu, 5km from Mount Kelud's peak.

"I can't wait any longer," said the father of three. "I have to work. I need money for my family."